Students working on their porjects before the showcase. (GIH | Rasheed Ajamu)

Tonight, the students of Houston Elementary School will make their artistic debut for an exceptional youth edition of Germantown Art & Sound (GA&S). The showcase is guided by our neighborhood’s very own creative haven, Germantown ArtHaus, founded and operated by Keisha Whatley.

The art program is supported by the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) via their 2023 Community Support grant, which Whatley learned about through a community member who she says “would not let [her] forget.” The art program seeks to empower and cultivate these young Picassos through art and provide them with mentorship from different professional Artist Mentors. 

But how did the students of Houston Elementary get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Art teacher Shaunia Bronson was an artist featured in a GA&S Showcase in April 2023.  After being a part of the showcase, an idea sparked.

“[GA&S’s] professionalism knocked me out of the water,” Bronson exclaimed. “The way they put an art show together, I said there is no way that this can be a thing that only adults do. My kids need this opportunity to hone in on the fact that the arts can definitely be a profession.”

She continues, talking about the importance of giving them this experience: “It’s really up to the newer 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 50-year-olds to be like ‘I have this plethora of knowledge. Let me put you in front of something new and see what happens.’”

With Bronson’s idea and the grant of funds to Whatley and the ArtHaus, the two minds blended to bring this program to Houston.

(Left to right) Shaunia Bronson & Keisha Whatley. (GIH | Rasheed Ajamu)

Since April, 20 students have been guided through 12 sessions on various art forms, such as painting, photography, jewelry-making, hand-sewing, sculpting, and more. With these newly-acquired and sharpened skills, students will showcase and sell their creations to each other, their families, the Germantown community, and stragglers from far and wide.

Though students were only tasked with creating one project each, some felt the spirit of creativity and excitement of learning something new and made a few pieces. Seventh-grader Trinity Caldwell did.

Caldwell created some jewelry, a collage, and a painting. Jewelry is something she’s already been doing for a while, along with collaging. But painting was something new for her.

“I just wanted to try [it],” Caldwell said. “I’ll at least try something else before I stick to one thing.” She says the most exciting part for her has been being with her friends and lovingly “annoying” her teacher, “Miss S” (Bronson).

Sixth-grader Chloe Richard took inspiration from her mother’s knack for jazzing up their home by creating miniature home decor sculptures. She says this experience has helped her grow as an artist as it “gives [her] the strength to sculpt and paint better.” 

She continues: “I’m making designs on them and making designs look better and stuff.”

Sixth-grader Xavier Mosher, who made a bowl with a pumpkin inside, and fifth-grader Malik Ferron, who created a reflection of a body of water, say this program has not only been helpful but thinks more programs like these should be offered at Houston and other schools in Philadelphia.

Mosher says, “It’s teaching me all these different techniques and all these other skills that I can do with [stuff] with like drawing, sculpting, or any other art-related thing. It could help them, too, I guess.”

Ferron, who says this program has been a release and puts him in his comfort zone, says that the most exciting part of this project is “[he doesn’t] have to be someone else [he doesn’t] want to be.”  For others who may get an opportunity like this, his advice is to “just be yourself.”

Bronson took a minute to gather herself when asked what it was like to provide her students with this opportunity. She then said, “[People] want these kids to be robotic. Like, cut and dry, copy and paste. So, if I can break it to a kid and have them see a little bit of that non-normalcy of life and get into some of the creative and wacky stuff, I’ll do it.”

She says seeing the kids’ “true personalities” has been the most rewarding part of this two-month program. “It’s artist-to-artist–someone who’s experienced versus someone who has no experience,” Bronson says. “But I get to be a kid with them. They get to teach me. It’s just been a great way to connect with students on a non-educational level.”

Whatley says this is the most important event the ArtHaus has ever put on. “It’s a community showing of support for young people. And there’s nothing more important in this day and age than young people creating something,  coming out, and seeing that the community is there for them and that the community values what they created. There is nothing more important than that.”

All neighbors are encouraged to attend tonight at 6 p.m. to support these youth as they showcase their masterpieces and products at Our House Culture Center, 6380 Germantown Avenue. The suggested donation is $5-10 per person or $20 per family. 

All proceeds, not the sale, will support new materials and supplies for Bronson’s art classes in Houston. The ArtHaus also hopes to create a scholarship to assist youth with program registration.

When asked if there’s anything she’d like to say to potential goers of the showcase, Caldwell laughed and said, “Please support me — I’m broke! And have a great time at the show. Thank you!”