Eighth Grade White Shirt Project + Arts Block Evening

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Eighth graders presented their highly anticipated White Shirt Projects to a full house Thursday evening. Students chose an array of different contemporary artists, and their work explored themes ranging from Civil Rights to their journey at GUS, where they had been and where they hoped to go in the future. “I am always in awe of the self-awareness and poise our students demonstrate on Arts Block Evening,” commented Director of Upper School Gretchen Forsyth. “This is a quintessential GUS project, closely tied to our mission. The students explore, discover, and synthesize so much about the artists and themselves. These are amazing young people and this night is just the beginning. GUS students are destined for great things!”

During Arts Block Evening, the opening celebration of the annual eighth grade art exhibition, the students presented their White Shirt Projects and modern dances they choreographed to the greater GUS community. Based on an overall theme of books, students danced in small groups each telling their own story. The performance culminated with a group finale, bringing the theme to life.

“This night is really the student's’ graduation from their arts program at GUS,” explained upper school art teacher Dawn Southworth. Southworth conceived of the idea for the White Shirt Project a number of years ago at an auction of commissioned artwork organized to benefit a women’s shelter in Cambridge, MA; the benefit came to be known as the Boston Cardigan Project. In the Glen Urquhart version, the students are asked to take a plain white oxford shirt and transform it into their own original work of art. Southworth pointed out, “The towering scale, complex materials, and mature vision of these original works of art are something one might see in a contemporary art museum. To think that 13 and 14 year-old students created these powerful works of art is astounding.”

In the fall, eighth graders travel to New York City; they visit the Museum of Modern Art to study contemporary artists and past masters as part of their humanities curriculum. When they return, students each choose a modern artist for their project. Using the white shirt, they create an autobiographical, mixed-media statement, with original ideas and symbolism, that uses aspects of their chosen artist’s style and techniques. They also write a research paper that profiles their artist and provides a critical assessment of the artist’s contribution to his/her times.

“The White Shirt Project is a perfect capstone for our 8th graders. It begins with them choosing an artist who they connect with on a personal level and grows from there. Starting with what the child knows, what inspires them, and what feels relevant to their developing sense of self is what makes this project, and the GUS curriculum, so successful. Woven through this experience is practice with important academic skills. Not only are students creating a piece of art, they are also researching, writing, and presenting,” commented humanities teacher Jeffrey Bartsch. The eighth graders work closely with Bartsch to write and deliver powerful gallery talks about their artist, their own experiments with creating art, and what they learned on the journey.

The White Shirt Projects are on display at Glen Urquhart School through the first week of March 2017.

Whitney Buckley