VISUAL THINKING STUDIOS

Indianapolis, IN

In the Footsteps of Giants

by Emily Hanson,
Senior Coordinator of Teacher & School Programs

As part of a grant we received from the NEA in conjunction with Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, an exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, we have been able to form a partnership with a remarkable group of students and faculty--the Junior Giant Kings--at Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center in Indianapolis. Gang violence is a growing problem schools across the country, and Lynhurst is no exception.

The Junior Giant Kings is made up of a select group of Latino and African American students--two groups who are experiencing increased racial tensions in many Indianapolis schools, who must go through a fairly rigorous application process to join. Within the group, they have daily discussions about social issues, cultural awareness, and leadership.

They are led by a core group of committed and dedicated young teachers--men who serve as positive role models to these boys and show them what potential lies within. One great strength of the program is that these young men meet every morning in home room to build relationships, have productive discussions and learn to trust and respect each other. Developing these skills has allowed them to become mediators within their own school, taking it upon themselves to act as arbitrators between gang members and encouraging their peers to slow down, look fairly at a situation, and be willing to hear each other out.

It becomes easy to see how VTS fits seamlessly into the goals of this program. We have integrated VTS into classroom discussions with IMA staff, classroom activities with teachers, and field trips to the museum. I am astounded by the depth and insight teens can share through these sessions. In a culture that supports machismo and defensiveness in its youth, it is rare but extraordinary to listen to the boys open up, speak freely and reflect on the art they're seeing. Through use of VTS coupled with the intricacies and ambiguous nature of Dial's work, they were given the opportunity to explore artwork in a safe and non-critical environment.

VTS has awarded these students a sense of ownership and confidence in the way they look at art and in the way they interact with each other. We are incredibly fortunate to have their teachers as advocates and partners in this effort, and to see how these phenomenal young men are well on their way to becoming phenomenal adults.

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Thornton Dial; Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together, 2003, 71 × 114 × 8 in., Collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.