by Basha Cohen |
Barth Quenzer is symbolic of an old fashion educational phrase, “Arts and Sciences.” However, this generation’s renaissance man is going about it in a thoroughly modern way. Wildly prodigious and creative in his artistry, the local art teacher was raised by two scientists in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He muses, “The reason I am back at Brown is because I had two scientists as parents, and didn’t have an art experience in school. Where I grew up art was more about ‘vocal arts’, and the last thing I needed was vocal music. As ‘Art’ was being taught he would tune out, adding the Charley Brown “Waaa, Waaa, Waaa” soundtrack to his descriptive quip. Being a good son and student, he left the southwest and moved to Denver to pursue his degree in Cognitive Science at the University of Denver. It was a phenomenal program, but “I was only doing it because that was what I was supposed to do. I finally realized I needed to start following my gut and not my head. I’m going to change my direction to my passion.” Hence, a true artist was born.
The Guerrilla Garden and Brown International Academy are the proud homes of this visionary. Yes, he is an artist, but he has the mind of a scientist, too. After all, the apple never really falls that far from the tree. The true nature of his art is that he is exacting, experimenting, recalibrating and reconsidering until the truth is revealed both on his personal canvases and those of his devoted students. The fusion of this right-brain, left-brain thinking is articulated on his “Artist Statement” page of the Guerrilla Garden website. He and a variety of collaborative artists work together to create their own unique works of art, but framed within the larger context of their collective vision. Mr. Q’s artist statement begins,
“Artist statements should begin with a disclaimer: Art requires no explanation, no validation; it simply exists because there is no other option. It is tempting to explain some anthropological reason for the existence of art, but I won’t… I would rather get to the gist and provide an actual description of the art in the most concrete, objective way possible:
The body of work has its genesis at the Guerilla Garden over two years ago, slowly maturing into its finished state. It is covertly influenced by the chance encounters of other artists that inhabit creative spaces, subtly drawing inferences from graffiti, printmaking, sculpture, filmmaking, music, and fine art painting. Using a self-described process of aesthetic inquiry the body of work attempts to capture these multiple influences in a singular form.” (For the full statement go to www.bquenzer.com/p/artist-statments.html)
Mr. Q’s educational philosophy continues to evolve. The cornerstone of his current thinking echoes the influence of his collaboration at the Guerrilla Garden. “The Guerrilla Garden artists have made me see my students as artists in the real world.” As a result, Quenzer experienced a breakthrough career moment. He began thinking about the art program entirely differently, “This year I have reconsidered the function of art at Brown so it is not just about teaching art, but teaching the students about the practice of being a contemporary artist.” He has taken on the mission to create a collaborative artist space for his students. In this studio, each of his students are artists, with their own intrinsic motivation and skills that Mr. Q wants to build upon in their learning. “Student art doesn’t have to be little individual projects, but instead we can have an impact by working in collaboration with the art world to understand it’s real effect in day-to-day ways. If each student is an artist with their own specific talents, and work together toward a bigger vision, ultimately we come up with big, and potentially even great projects.”
There are several programs which are being developed both inside and outside of the classroom in Quenzer’s after-school art club that reflect this big picture, collaborative thinking. Framing the entire schoolyard, a plain concrete wall became one of the first major art projects that Mr. Q spearheaded in 2007. Quenzer is currently working with the Urban Arts Fund Committee to complete this visionary project. His pitch letter, clearly demonstrates the adage, “Life imitates art,” in a unique twist of events that has brought the community together full-circle.
“Our artistic vision begins with a great story…Five years ago I heard of a teacher doing amazing work with students during an after-school art program at West High School. I heard that this teacher was doing something special with her mural program; she was collaborating with some very talented young graffiti artists. I contacted the teacher, Maureen Hearty, and made arrangements to take a tour. She showed me elaborate student murals throughout the historic building. The murals were tall, complex works of art. ‘Really, students did this?’ I was in awe. That day I didn’t have the opportunity to meet the young artists responsible for painting the murals…but I left feeling inspired to start my own mural program at Brown…and I did.
Five years and many murals later, I’m at the Guerilla Garden listening to a panel of artists talk about how they “Made it in America” by pursuing and staying true to their creative beliefs. Ratha Sok was one of the artists speaking on the panel, talking about his ideas behind the “social entrepreneur,” a new way of thinking about social change throughout the creative mediums of art, music, film and smart business. Then Ratha spoke about where this all began…back at West High as a student and the mural program he created with Maureen Hearty. In a flash, I immediately understood that this was the unknown artist whose art inspired me five years ago as I toured West High. Ratha was one of the people who set me on a path as an elementary art teacher eager to learn more about the possibilities of student-led public art.
When I told Ratha my story, we both could hardly believe how incredible it was. Five years ago, Ratha began his work as a “social entrepreneur,” whose work by proxy inspired a public art movement at Brown Elementary. Now the year is 2012, and we have one more wall to go…it just seems like fate that Ratha is here to help us with Brown’s last white wall.”
Aside from the mural, a remarkable global art initiative called “The Inside Out Project” has engendered worldwide participation. Gigantic photographic portraits are submitted from individuals around the planet and displayed in creative ways on walls, stoops, fences, etc. Each face tells a tale of concern and hope, and underscores the desire of the artist ranging from world peace, to the simplicity of bringing a smile to passerby’s faces. Mr. Q, in collaboration with fellow teacher, Jamie Johnson, “an outstanding portrait photographer,” are training one of the fifth graders, Owen Dehmler-Buckley, “our resident photographer,” in portrait photography. He will capture the 3rd to 5th grade students in the Art Club in order to create their own “Inside Out Project” that supports Brown’s International Baccalaureate philosophy and ideals, such as being “ A Risk Taker, Principled, and Caring.” For more on this fascinating project www.insideoutproject.net/#@section=about
As if these aren’t enough, the entire school community is coming together in a collaborative process to install a bronze statue of five children at the front entrance. Allied Realty’s Lauren Brockman gifted the statue. The groundbreaking community project day is slated for Monday, March 26th. All community members are welcome with picks, shovels and gloves, proving that true artistry also requires true grit.
In yet another community collaboration last Saturday night, Gina Hartley, proprietor of the Edgewater Coffee Company, held an art opening for the students of Brown’s art club. She hired family-friendly musicians, Mark McQuery and Dan Treanor, to entertain the packed crowd of parents, students and friends for this Saturday night art exhibition. Hartley, with her characteristic generosity gave the art club $200. Student’s creative works will be displayed through the month of March, and are available for sale.
Barth Quenzer is not your average art teacher. He is reaching his stride in his professional life as an artist and educator. His left-brain moves the boundaries at Brown with experimental pilot programs that push the limits of art. His right-brain has been asked to serve on a committee for the Colorado Department of Education and DPS to help redesign the assessment tools for teachers in every discipline. “The goal is to create a bank of research data based on qualitative work that anyone can access to view true student growth over time that reflects teacher effectiveness and student’s understanding.”
Buoyed with enthusiasm about his new focus, Quenzer paints a picture of the impact our time has on the education continuum. “I really believe that we are coming out of the information era, and moving into the conceptual era. How can you conceptualize information since there is far too much out there? Students need the ability to access information, organize it in a meaningful way, and create vehicles for sharing very complex ideas with others. We don’t need to create new information, but instead, synthesize, understand and incorporate diverse perspectives in order to innovate.”
A picture paints a thousand words. Somehow, Mr. Q does both.