Back In The Swing of Things

After a short break, I’m back to revel in the beauty of art therapy in juvenile detention. As you may know, I’m constantly racking my brain about how to empower my students to feel more autonomous in our very structured, and even rigid, art studio. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, they aren’t allowed to stand up or move around the “classroom” without permission, and since all of our materials are counted and recounted by the detention staff and myself, they aren’t allowed to fetch any of their own materials or put them away.

So! I’m trying a couple new things this year- and the kids have really responded positively. Actually, first let me say that it’s a completely different feeling to go through the first month of the school year around familiar little unlawful faces. The kids know me and, disappointing as it is, they’ve all cycled back through and I know pretty much all of them. They’re familiar with my style and, even if I’m not always successful (I hit many gang-related roadblocks!!), they respect my efforts to let them create freely.

I was lucky enough to inherit a huge bookshelf of books with my classroom- everything from art history to arts and crafts to How to Draw Anime, cars, faces, deep sea wildlife, and everything in between. Recently, I ordered some book crates (they’re just slightly upgraded milk crates from Office Max!) and categorized the books into a few loose themes- animals, 3D drawing techniques, cartooning techniques, human figure drawing, etc. I’d say there’s probably 10-15 books per crate.

This works out for everyone in a few big ways. First, if a student is working on a project and needs to look through a book for ideas, I can grab her a crate and let her look through the many books right there at her seat. I’m happy because I have one less student out of their seat, and she’s happy because she gets to take her time finding inspiration and doesn’t have to accept the one or two that I might have pulled off the shelf for her if she wasn’t allowed to get up. She gets to make the choice about which book to use (increased autonomy) but doesn’t have to get out of her seat 12 times to find just the right one! I love it.

Oh… one more thing! I’ve included some pictures below as a follow up to my August post about our first project of the school year, inspired by Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” installation in New Orleans. It was a moving experience and I was endlessly thankful that I the kids put sincere thought into their artwork and didn’t create sixty versions of Before I Die I Want To __Get RICH!__ J Enjoy!
Til next month,



2 responses to “Back In The Swing of Things

  1. Dear Erin,
    I am a second year MAAT student looking to work in a juvenile detention facility. Can you help? Do you have interns?


    • Miles,
      We are so sorry for the delay in getting back to you here!! Erin posts her blog remotely and does not have access to your comments directly. If you would like information on internships and/or would like to speak to Erin directly please email your questions and request to VATA and we can assist you or forward the message to her. Our email is, Thank you for you patience!

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