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Art Facts: drawing talent from the inner city



Miriam Gutierrez, a bubbly, brown-haired 15-year-old, has been taking classes at the Marwen Foundation--an art-education program for inner-city kids--since last summer. On this particular day in March, she and the rest of the advanced classical drawing class are sitting around a table, wearing--for the purpose of today's exercise--a collection of eccentric hats. Their assignment: draw the person across from you using the hand you don't normally draw with. The result is an arresting display of talent that, along with some of the class's other black-and-white work, makes up "Classical Drawing: Shades of Black and White," currently on exhibit at the Junior Museum of the Art Institute.

The Marwen Foundation was conceived a year and a half ago by Steve Berkowitz, a former businessman eager to combine his passion for art and his love of kids. The not-for-profit organization was designed to help public-school students who might not be able to receive the individual attention and instruction necessary to nurture their artistic talents.

Marwen sends teachers out to eight community centers on the north, south, and west sides to lead after-school and weekend classes. More advanced students take classes at the Marwen studio on Huron and have free use of the studio and materials when classes are not in session. Marwen students get no school credit, but the classes and materials are all free.

After each assignment is finished, the kids discuss their work, and they also often trek down to the Art Institute to look at the work hanging there. This is what Berkowitz calls the art-appreciation aspect of the course. "The curriculum in every class deals with art history--if they're doing portraits, they go to look at portraits by famous artists. Almost every class ends with critiquing, whether it's from the teacher, student, or student's peers. They also learn the reasons why they do or don't like something."

Out of Berkowitz's basic plan of teaching kids art came a career-opportunity class, offered "to show kids how they can turn their talent into a career," Berkowitz says. "We expose them to architecture, advertising, interior design--all different ways of making a living out of art." This year the foundation set up paid internships for 27 students in companies like Leo Burnett, U.S. Equities, and the Art Institute. Marwen students also participate in the Art Institute's Portfolio Day, when they can bring their work and meet recruiters from art schools. The City Associates of the Women's Board and the Museum Education Department of the Art Institute, which together sponsored the "Classical Drawing" exhibit, liked what Marwen was doing so much that they decided to forgo their annual exhibit of high school students' photography and display Marwen students' work instead.

Moses Perez, a 17-year-old from Logan Square, became interested in art after experimenting with graffiti, which he did, he cautiously explains, "just on paper." He moved from letters to figures, gradually creating more realistic art. He has been drawing since age 12; about a year and a half ago, his high school teacher told him about Marwen. He wants to go to the American Academy of Art and train to become an illustrator, and perhaps someday a famous artist.

"I want to create my own line of comic books," says 17-year-old south-sider Carlos Murray, who spends about five hours a week at the studio. He has been a comic book fan since a young age and has been involved in art since fifth grade. Since coming to the Marwen Foundation a little more than a year ago, he says, he's expanded his talent. "We're taught here to experiment, try new things and perfect our style."

"Students love to come and make art," says Berkowitz, "and this is one of the few places they can do it."

Marwen's Studio Gallery, open to the public 9 to 5 weekdays, is at 325 W. Huron, suite 215. "Classical Drawing: Shades of Black and White" runs through April 30 at the Junior Museum on the lower level of the Art Institute, Michigan at Adams. Museum hours are 10:30 to 4:30 Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 10:30 to 8 Tuesday, 10 to 5 Saturday, and noon to 5 Sunday. Call 944-2418 or 443-3680 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.

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