Local Heroes: Art as Sanctuary

What if your neighborhood was your entire world? For Jeff Margolin, many of his students have never left Emeryville, Calif. Life is their high school, home, and the nearby gas station. Some kids have parents who are drug addicts or are in jail. Instead of returning home after school, some of those kids choose to work with Jeff on different art projects. And it all takes place in Emeryville.

Being a full-time potter in the current sluggish economy isn’t easy. Many people don’t have the extra cash to spend on art. With little money and the responsibility of caring for two disabled people, Jeff somehow still finds time to teach art to students from the seventh through the twelfth grades.

At the start of his three years of working with the non-profit organization that led to his teaching job and his current apartment, he had difficulties working with his supervisor. Every class had different students, making it harder to complete projects  or get to know the kids well. That changed when a new teacher willing to work with Jeff stepped in. Though she was wary at the start, she was very well organized in teaching the students color theory, art theory, perspective art, and art history. The makeup of the class of 30-35 students remained consistent for longer periods of time, which helped Jeff develop a better curriculum.

As the months went by, Jeff started learning more about each student. There were the students who would pay attention in class, while others thought art was a waste of time. On one occasion at the end of the year, he asked three girls – a Sri Lankan, a Pakistani and an Indian – to step out back. Jeff took a discarded piece of pottery and, with all his strength, threw it at the nearby wall. The girls watched in horror as, with a resounding crash, it broke into pieces and scattering all over the cement. Jeff laughed and he handed one of the girls a piece, which she half-heartedly tossed against the wall like a beanbag. It bounced off the wall and landed onto the ground intact. She picked it up again and used her entire arm to fling the piece against the wall. With the second throw, it broke. She turned around with a twinkle in her eye. The other two girls followed suit, giggling the entire time.

This entry was posted in Student Writing Gallery.

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