| Art |

Locust Arts Builders: Fostering Miami's Next Art Stars

High school artists will show the Miami art crowd what they're made of when Locust Projects unveils this year's Locust Arts Builders (LAB) collaborative exhibition.

This is LAB's fifth year giving young artists the chance to learn more about the professional art world. The program grew out of a want to provide artistically inclined students the ability to express themselves in a public space.

The collaboration is overseen by Chana Sheldon, the executive director of Locust Projects, and program directors/artist-mentors Loriel Beltran and Monica Lopez de Victoria, of the TM Sisters.

"It really came out of this internship program that we had where students from DASH [Design Architecture Senior High] and New World [School of the Arts] would come in and help us out with the installation and office stuff," said Sheldon. "It became very clear that these are the next generation of Miami-based artists, and we needed to support them in some way because they were so enthusiastic about what we were doing with our exhibition and they wanted to be a part of it."

To help develop Locust Arts Builders, Sheldon turned to Victoria, who had past experience with organizing and promoting large events. "I had just had an exhibition there with my sister and 30 other creators and performers," said Victoria. "She saw how I was able to organize and orchestrate a lot of people to make one final outcome while letting all of their talents shine through. She approached me about developing this project, and I was super into it." The program has been getting better each year, she said, but this year might be the best yet: "This year, I feel like it's finally in full bloom."

When Locust Arts Builders first started, 15 students were invited, said Sheldon. Afterwards, more students wanted to be a part of the program.

"The level of applications that we got were significantly noticeable and we had about double the amount of applications this year," said Victoria.

"We were getting more submissions and about two years ago, we moved to a larger space, and so there was more room to create larger, more ambitious work," said Sheldon. "We really wanted to be able to spread the opportunity to more students. This year, we're so excited that we have 17 different high schools represented."

The students' experiences range from attending art schools like DASH and New World to having their interest in art piqued by excelling in art classes in traditional schools. "The different backgrounds of the students...become really interesting in the way they bring their experiences to the program," she said.

The program gives students an up-close look at what life is like for professional artists. "These students are at Locust Projects every day for three weeks. During that time, we're just jam-packing the experience with as [many] art-world professionals and experiences that we can think of," said Sheldon. "We have artists coming in, and studio visits. We're going to other art organizations in town, like the  Pérez [Art Museum Miami] and Downtown ArtHouse. We're giving the artists the opportunity to hear from curators, from galleries, to hear from the art collectors and art supporters in our community. All of these things are exposing them to the art world in different ways, and each student in our program responds and learns from different things."

Some of the curators and artists include Simón Vega from the Fountainhead Residency and the El Salvador representative at the 55th Venice Biennale; artist and adventurer Leandro Vazquez; José Carlos Diaz, Curator of Exhibitions at Bass Museum of Art; Felicia Carlisle, a local artist at Cannonball Residency; Cassie Thornton and Mitchell Squire, visiting artists at Cannonball; Lark Keeler, Curator of Education at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami; Alpesh Kantilai Patel, Ph.D, art historian and professor at Florida International University; and Thom Wheeler Castillo, artist, docent at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, site manager at Downtown ArtHouse, and co-director at Turn-Based Press.

"It's a really big eye-opener for the kids," said Victoria. "They learn things kids in college don't even learn yet."

The program doesn't just teach the students about the creative side of art; Locust Arts Builders teaches students skills they can use for a lifetime. "Thinking about things in visual form is a really important way of expanding the way you're thinking about the world," said Sheldon. "With our program ... the students are, first and foremost, there to create a collaborative exhibition. But you are talking about having 25 young artists in one room together. All of their interests are different...Those students are going to get the most benefit out of it because they're [learning] how to communicate their ideas in order to be heard and in order for their ideas to come through in the final show. They're not making individual pieces and just hanging them on the wall; they're conceiving an idea together and coming up with the best way to execute it. Learning how to communicate and talking about your work is a really important part of the program."

What people can expect at the exhibition is gallery-quality art created from an intense, but fun, collaborative effort. "Our goal is to get it at the same level as any international artist coming into a space, that level of quality, but made by high schoolers...They learn how to work together," said Victoria. "It's a bunch of really awesome kids...The kids have been really, really amazing to work with."

"[People] can expect to see the result of three intense weeks from 25 individuals coming together and creating a site-specific show and materials that they may not have been familiar with," said Sheldon. "So, in Locust Projects style, it's experimental, it's pushing the boundaries...and in Locust Projects style, you never know what you're going to walk into."

The exhibition opens Saturday, July 12, with a reception starting at 7 p.m. and lasting until 10 p.m. The exhibition will end Aug. 16 with a closing reception beginning at 7 p.m. and ending at 10 p.m. Visit locustprojects.org.

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