ArtReach and GW’s Corcoran Arts Program Prepares D.C. Art Students for College

ArtReach and GW’s Corcoran Arts Program Prepares D.C. Art Students for College


Eleven young artists sat quietly in the brightly lit room at THEARC in Southeast Washington, studying their images in mirrors propped in front of them. Each student had the same assignment—create a self-portrait.

Fifteen-year-old Amari Walton displayed a contorted facial expression as she explained that it wasn’t her favorite exercise.

“It looks way better now… the way it is supposed to be,” said Ms. Walton, who has been taking the portfolio development class at ArtReach for the last four years.

ArtReach, a community-based arts program, has worked with young people ages 8 to 18 from communities around THEARC in Southeast D.C. for 27 years, but when one high school student’s application to art school was rejected, Melissa Green, the director of ArtReach and the Community Gallery at THEARC, said she realized students needed something more rigorous. So, she reached out to the George Washington University.

This led to the portfolio development class at THEARC. The class is a creation of a partnership between GW and ArtReach.

“The classes include critiques of work by the students,” said Ms. Green, describing the program that runs for seven sessions from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. “We have class discussions. There are different exercises and lots of different formal training. They learn about important artists and are exposed to different arts careers.”

That’s particularly important, Ms. Green said, because many parents are nervous about students pursuing careers in the arts.

Robert Yi, director of the GW Corcoran Arts Continuing Education Programs, described the class as a pathway toward college readiness and preparation since most art schools require a portfolio as part of the admissions process. Students must apply to get into ArtReach programs, and the process includes having teacher recommendations. In addition, ArtReach participants can apply for an ArtReach scholarship to attend a summer 2017 GW Pre-College Corcoran Arts program.

“It’s academically structured, there are certain academic requirements for portfolio development, mainly observational work,” Mr. Yi said. “We concentrate primarily on drawing and painting.”

Mr. Yi said teachers in the community have spoken to him about the challenges to providing this kind of opportunity. The fact that there is a free program is one reason they are happy to have it.

“STEM gets the focus of attention. Arts aren’t always appreciated,” he said.

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ArtReach at THEARC