| Art |

Locust Projects Lets High-Schoolers Run the Gallery This Month

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If you plan to stop by Locust Projects in the Design District this month, don’t be shocked to find the exhibition space being run by teenagers. Thanks to the Locust Arts Builders (LAB) program, aspiring young artists from an array of South Florida public and private high schools, including nonvisual and performing arts schools, are given the opportunity to learn what it takes to put together and budget an entire art exhibition — all in only four weeks.

LAB is under the direction of Miami-based contemporary visual artists Monica Lopez de Victoria and Francesco Lo Castro, who saw a great need for a program of this kind in South Florida.

Each year, roughly 20 juniors and seniors from high schools across South Florida are selected from an open call to create a collaborative exhibition at Locust Projects. Throughout the four-week summer intensive, the students must manage all aspects of the show’s production, which includes budgeting, brainstorming, and execution (including how to use professional tools such as drills and sanding machines).

The program also invites well-known artists and business professionals to speak with the students. Essentially, LAB gives them a taste of what to expect once they go to college and enter the “real world.”

“We bring in speakers to talk to them about different industries that you can work in,” director Lopez de Victoria says. “So we bring in people who are in the music and art industry and from the education system, the museums, the galleries. Basically, we teach our students how to hustle.”

For high-school students interested in pursuing careers in art, getting hands-on experience in a professional setting can be difficult. For the most part, students enrolled in high-school art classes or in after-school programs are taught how to create art or how to refine their niche, but aren’t necessarily educated about how to turn their passion into a viable career.

Unfortunately, unless their sketch of a celebrity goes viral on Instagram, even the most talented teens will need more than their talent to create a successful career. And students looking to pursue the business side of art often have to wait until they enroll in a business course on art in college to be exposed to such an experience.

“We’re teaching them stuff that they’re not even going to learn in college,” Lopez de Victoria says. “You know, this is hands-on, real life, being a professional artist — with the stress and everything.”
Even the most reputable performing and visual arts high schools and magnet schools in South Florida, including Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH) and New World School of the Arts, can't fully prepare students for what to expect, she says.

“It can be challenging because they’re used to being taught things and being in school with deadlines and stuff,” Lopez de Victoria says. “So we tell them: ‘Hey, this show is up to you. If you have a vision, you make it happen, and we will help you make it happen.’”

That might be why, for the past seven years, LAB has become one of the most competitive summer art programs in South Florida — and the 23 talented students who have been accepted this year know why.

“I knew about the program for a long time,” says Miami Beach Senior High graduate Maggie Gault, who plans to study architecture in the fall. “I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time, and this year I finally got the opportunity.”

When it comes to exactly what the students create and and how they create it (or how they tear apart and reconstruct the space), well, the directors stay hands-off. “We’re not going to worry about too many details,” Lopez de Victoria says. “We’re going to help them try to make their vision come to life, but it’s up to them. They have a budget; they have a lot of responsibilities.”

Locust Projects is a nonprofit exhibition space that gives contemporary visual artists the opportunity to experiment with art without the pressures of gallery sales or conventional exhibition spaces, according to the group. Miami-based artists Elizabeth Withstandley, Westen Charles, and Cooper founded the business in 1998. LAB is funded by the Alvah H. and Wyline P. Chapman Foundation and receives support from Miami-Dade County. For more information about the exhibitions, the space, and how to apply for a chance to join LAB in 2017, visit locustprojects.org.

The exhibitions created by the LAB students will be on view at Locust Projects through July 30.

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