Figurative painter Evy Lareau is an art instructor at a correctional facility. She got the job after responding to a help-wanted ad. She’s worked as an art therapist (she has a master’s degree in art therapy), case manager, and art teacher in residential treatment centers and specialized schools, as well as public schools, around the country. She’s also created programs for Boys and Girls Clubs in Milwaukee, Wis., and Los Angeles, where she now resides, and for after-school programs. Wanting to know more about Evy’s experience in bringing art, which she describes as “a language I understand”, into uncommon environments, I conducted an interview with her by e-mail. Highlights from that interview follow.
What draws you to working with the disadvantaged or those in need of special education services?
I have always had a passion for creating and providing opportunities for people in environments where art is not commonly found important. Art is such a wonderful tool to respond and communicate with. It is so versatile. It also is non-threatening, allowing my students to learn and feel heard. I’m an activist for arts education as a means of general education. I recognize the value it offers.
You created an arts program for your current employer from the ground up. What are some challenges in designing a program for any particular facility?
Contraband, from colored pencils to paper clips, yarn, and paint. Everything I use is a potential hazard or could be used for alternative purposes. Learning how to accommodate and account for these items in a controlled environment has been one of my biggest challenges, because I refuse to be limited to what I can teach because of materials I am allowed to use.
Language barriers. Although art is a universal language, teaching in a diversified classroom has proven to be challenging. A large number of my students have very little education and, being primarily Spanish-speaking, know minimal English. Comprehension and execution — getting the message across — have been my primary challenges. Needless to say, my Spanish is getting better by the day.
Constant transition/student turnover. My particular facility has a high turnover rate. Given limited time [with my students], I try to provide the most necessary skills in the shortest amount of time, so that students can move quickly and confidently through the program.
How does your background in art therapy facilitate your teaching?
I don’t use art therapy in my curriculum but the act of making art in these unique facilities encourages a therapeutic environment. I know how to respond to emotions that come into my classroom or that come up during the creative process. [My teaching] is a growing experience for me as well.
What’s your most memorable experience to date?
It’s hard to name one but what warms my heart is to be told by my students that they have never made art before, and then to see the beautiful artwork they create. They are excited about their accomplishments and want to share what they have learned with others, most especially their families.
Image of Pilar, acrylic and plaster on canvas, by Evy Lareau. Used with permission. Visit her website to see other paintings by Evy Lareau. Post by Maureen E. Doallas, author of Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems.
Visit Maureen’s blog, Writing Without Paper, on October 18 for the full interview with Evy Lareau.