A powerful new exhibit at the Fresno Art Museum celebrates the Civil Rights Act – and it was done by high school students. KSEE24‘s Jessica Porter explores the work done by McClane High School Art Venture Academy as they hope to make another move to Washington D.C.

By JESSICA PORTER | February 20, 2017

A powerful new exhibit at the Fresno Art Museum celebrates the Civil Rights Act, and it was done by high school students.

McLane High School Art Venue Academy is hoping their work will make another move to Washington D.C. It’s part of Eyewitness News’ Hidden Histories.

The students took a course on civil rights and turned it into a masterpiece.


 

McLane High School Art Venue Academy's Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964 exhibit on display at the Fresno Art Museum

"We wanted to talk to our students about that through our artwork through our writing and video production," said Manuel Bonilla, a video production teacher at McLane. "So the guiding question was: ‘How can I transform myself in order to transform my community?’"

The class spent months learning about the summer of 1964 in Mississippi.

"How can I transform myself in order to transform my community?"

An organized voter registration drive of black Mississippians and more than 1,000 predominately white out-of-state volunteers.

It sparked violent attacks against the civil rights activists.

"A lot of our students were not aware of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham girls and the bombings that happened there," said Marc Patterson, a McLane art teacher.

The finished product is nine museum quality woodblock prints, a three-dimensional bus filled with civil rights leaders, and performance arts.
 

Once one block was carved, it took four hours to print on paper.

It took five months to complete. The work now an exhibit at the Fresno Art Museum.

With plans to try to get it accepted to the Smithsonian’s new African-American History Museum in Washington D.C.

"I think because it’s been done by high school students that it makes it a little bit more special," Patterson said. "Plus the size and scope of it – and I think it really needs to be in a place like that to honor the subject matter."

"I think because it’s been done by high school students that it makes it a little bit more special"

The students worked in teams – designers, printers, and carvers like student Kasandra Viramontez.

"I love it. It was so relaxing," Viramontez said.

Once one block was carved, it took four hours to print on paper.

"They got so good at the technique that the last five were what you call one-offs where it was one print, and it went to get framed," Patterson said.

As the students studied the summer of 1964, the summer of 2014 began a new fight for civil rights – as thousands across the country protested the deaths of unarmed black men by police.

"You would think we kind of dealt with racial strife and all those issues but they really kind of flared up during the summer that we kind of started working on this project" Patterson said.

Patterson said many of the students were learning about the civil rights movement for the very first time.

Viramontez said: "I didn't know how it was like – the KKK – I learned much about how the African-Americans didn't have rights at that time."

"These people have stories. They lived a life and they were not that much older than you"

By spending months on the subjects beyond just a history book, the students came home with a deeper sense of what the time period was like.

"These people have stories. They lived a life and they were not that much older than you,” Bonilla said. “They realize I have a connection to this person – this person is kind of like me, and when they can relate to that, they go deeper into the topic – they go deeper into the emotions that person was feeling."

For more information on McClane High School Art Venture Academy, please visit McLane High School

For more information on the exhibition and many more, please visit fresnoartmuseum.org

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