Midlothian library art program aims to engage teens
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent October 31, 2013 5:06PM
Jennifer Cottrill, of the Midlothian Public Library, talks to students about the November schedule before the beginning of a session of the "Engage!" program. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 31, 2013 8:19PM
The Midlothian Public Library is engaging in some groundbreaking activities.
Jennifer Cottrill, eight months into her position as the library’s adult and teen librarian, is overseeing “Engage! Teens, Art and Civic Participation,” a pilot project based on the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Picturing America” program.
Cottrill, who took online classes to prepare to supervise the program, said the library is the first in the area to offer the project and believes it’s the right fit.
“From the first webinar, I was just hooked,” Cottrill said. “I thought, ‘This is the program for us.’ ”
Cottrill said the goal is to introduce 12- to 18-year-olds to a variety of American art forms, discuss them and have the students participate in activities as a way to “see themselves as having an opinion, a voice and some power to make statements that influence people.”
The participants may have a unique opportunity to reach that goal soon, Cottrill said, through a “synergy of events” that connects the “Engage” program to a permanent art project in the courtyard of the library’s newly remodeled building.
Cottrill said the “vision” of the library board to have a mural designed and painted by teens came to her attention about the same time she was introduced to the “Engage” program. The completion of the mural will be the program’s culminating event.
Although the “Engage” program, which began in September and will end in February, stands on its own merits, Cottrill said, “the critical thinking, reflectiveness and creativity that it promotes ... will definitely create a far richer (mural) in the end.”
The program holds two free Saturday sessions a month for up to three hours each.
Five themes — “Growing Up,” “Participation,” “Signs & Symbols,” an Art Institute field trip, and “Community and American Dreams” — are designed to encourage young people, through art-inspired discussion and activities, to become active in their communities “as they define their community,” Cottrill said.
“It can be as small as their neighborhood. ... or it can be as large as the global community,” she said.
The art consists of literature, classical oil paintings, modern art, pop art, photography and digital art. The participants have the opportunity to try each type of art by participating in all sessions or choose themes or media that most interest them, Cottrill said, but they must register each month.
Jennifer Morrissey, 28, an artist and second-grade teacher at Brook Park Elementary School in Brookfield, will oversee the art projects throughout the “Engage” program and then guide the students through the mural design process in March, April and May.
In June and July, Morrissey and Cottrill will guide the teens as they paint the mural.
A lifelong Midlothian resident, Morrissey said the mural “is something I haven’t seen happen in Midlothian at all.
“I think being a part of it is kind of once-in-a-lifetime,” Morrissey said. “It’s definitely good community involvement.”
Cottrill said teens who want to be part of the mural project are welcome to join the group in March when “brainstorming” to generate ideas will begin.
Cottrill emphasized that participants do not need to have artistic ability for either project.
“A huge component of (the program) is just discussion, and regardless of what type of art you create, you will get something out of this discussion,” Cottrill said. “All types of contributions to the mural process will be appreciated.”
Cottrill said that in the program’s first weeks, students already were making discoveries about their ability to “talk about art.”
“It’s powerful for them to realize that art is not just something that hangs on a museum wall,” Cottrill said. “It’s something they can have an opinion about.”
The November program, “Signs & Symbols,” begins at 1 p.m. Nov. 2. Registration is required.
For more information or to register for the program, visit www.midlothianlibrary.org or call (708) 535-2027.