Bearden Middle School – Featured Artist

Arts matter.

At various times in our national history, we get caught up in a great debate about the value of arts in our communities and in our schools, and although, generally speaking, we don’t like to debate, on this point, well, we ain’t shy.  From our earliest days the Tomato Head has been full of the arts of all sorts – and these days we keep our walls alive with the extraordinary work of visual artists because we know that arts matter.

The arts build confidence, and they’re among the most potent crucibles for creative thinking, problem solving, and resourceful approaches to living in the modern era.  And in a growing community like Knoxville, the arts are the nectar and ambrosia of progress and beauty.  They are an essential component of the drive to create that increasingly defines this wonderful place we call home.

That’s part of the reason that we invited the students of Bearden Middle School (BMS) to adorn our walls with their work.  As for the other part, that’s about talent and vision, and you’ll understand it when you see this exhibit’s vast array of color, composition, and joy.

Under the direction of teachers Mike Weininger and Jessie Winston, students from BMS’ half year and full year programs were invited to create a small, abstract work for community display.  It wasn’t an assignment – it was an invitation outside of their class room requirements.  Weininger, said, “I didn’t want them to be motivated by grades for this project. So, if they didn’t complete it, it didn’t affect their grades.  Some of them are under so much pressure at the end of the semester with tests and everything, and I told them ‘if you can’t complete it then that’s fine, don’t worry about it.  Of course, your work won’t be in the show.’”

So, you see, these are works of passion. All 100 of them.

Weininger and Winston don’t take much credit for what their students produce, but clearly the environment that they and BMS have built gives their students an inviting place to let imagination thrive.   That includes having both a semester and a yearlong option for art class.

Weininger is quick to point out that he doesn’t feel that BMS’s art program is in any danger of going away.  In fact, he has nothing but good things to say about the encouragement and support he feels not only from the school, but from the entire community, too.   Still, he and Winston work hard to keep their student’s work visible to make sure that their colleagues and community see the value of the programming – both semester and year-long because, Weinger thinks, “for many of my students, this class can be the one class, the one connection that keeps them going.”

The works themselves are a varied lot, but color and vision flourish through the exhibit.  Weininger and Winston asked the students to label their works by hand.  Often in these works, the handwriting, which clearly belongs to young fingers, is an odd but thrilling juxtaposition to the maturity of the composition.

And, of course all the participants hope that viewers won’t say, “Cool! A kid did that”.  They’d much rather hear, “Wow.  Nice painting.”

As for us, we just hope to keep seeing more of it.

The exhibit of abstract and mixed media pieces will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square from January 7th thru February 3rd, 2019.  The exhibit will then hang at the West Knoxville Tomato Head from February 5th thru March 4th, 2019.