Students proudly tour gallery to see their finished projects alongside famous works

 La Mesa students preview the Words Alive Arts Component exhibition, which featured their animated films and writing, at Chuck Jones Gallery on June 6. 

La Mesa students preview the Words Alive Arts Component exhibition, which featured their animated films and writing, at Chuck Jones Gallery on June 6. 

Angelica nearly leaped over her classmates in a rush to get up close to the exhibit at Chuck Jones Gallery last week.

“That one’s mine,” the La Mesa student beamed, pointing to her drawings on the display of characters posted to the gallery wall.

“Wait, wait, look at this one,” a classmate interrupted. “This one is mine.”

Angelica was just one of at least 40 students who had the chance to see their own characters on display alongside famous faces from the Looney Tunes series. After months of reading and discussing books, writing letters and creating animated films surrounding the theme, “presence,” the ah-ha moment finally happened as students previewed the exhibit on the morning of June 6. The public enjoyed the showcase at Chuck Jones Gallery downtown later that same evening.

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For this fourth annual Words Alive Adolescent Book Group Arts Component, students read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deavere Smith. Through the project, Momentum Learning (Juvenile Court and Community Schools) students were able to not only create connections to the texts, but also to themselves and the world.

Words Alive writing volunteers helped the students craft reflection letters and poems that focused on how students see themselves in the world. The result was powerful.

The collection of their work, Presence: An Invitation to Be Your Creative and Authentic Self, is now available for purchase here.

Teaching artists from Chuck Jones Center for Creativity trained Words Alive volunteers who worked directly with students at seven schools to create the final installment of the project: animated films.

 Say Cheese! Chuck Jones Center for Creativity and Words Alive staff and volunteers celebrate the students' work at the exhibit. 

Say Cheese! Chuck Jones Center for Creativity and Words Alive staff and volunteers celebrate the students' work at the exhibit. 

In preparation of taking photographs to create the stop-animation videos, students developed characters, scenery and storylines – a complex process many said taught them “patience” and “that everything good takes time.”

In the special collections room of the gallery, students further discussed the artistic storytelling process as they admired original drafts from Chuck Jones: sketches of Marvin the Martian and Wile E. Coyote alongside the final adaptions of the characters that appeared in the cartoon series. Even Chuck Jones had drafts, they commented, reflecting on their own process from their project. 

The time-consuming process was a special challenge for the students who have faced issues such as homelessness, exposure to drug abuse and gang violence, juvenile delinquency or teen pregnancy. The students often bounce around from one place or project to the next, rarely able to finish something.

“I felt good about myself because I've never did nothing like that before,” Noemy wrote about finishing the project. “I wasn't expecting it to come out as good as it did.”

Another wrote “I learned that I can accomplish something.”