City Desk

A Struggling Middle School Hosts An Art Auction

Hart Middle School has received several overhauls during Mayor Adrian Fenty's tenure. By my count, it has had three principals in the last three years. Hart had been a symbol of school mismanagement and student violence. In 2007, its principal called students out of class so they could throw books in a dumpster to make way for a new—and empty—library. Even its graduation ceremony could feel out-of-control.

I had checked in on Hart ever since the book dumping. It always seemed like a rough place to learn let alone feel safe. Yesterday afternoon, I attended the middle school's art auction of student works. At least for a few hours, the auction seemed like a great big victory for the struggling school.

Parents showed up. Students behaved. The kid who'd recently been shot stopped by with a new toy—a wooden cane. Even the teacher who'd left mid-year made a surprise visit. If all that weren't cause to celebrate, the marching band got through a slowed-down version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with its dignity intact.

The students took their art and the auction seriously. Dozens of paintings and photographs hung in Hart's first-floor hallways with the artists standing nearby to explain their work. Some of the parents acted liked super agents—not quite Ari Gold from "Entourage" but close.

"You gonna bid on my daughter's art?"

"I'm a journalist, I have to be objective."

Twenty minutes later, the mom was back at me.

"There's still time to bid!"

That was Cer' Cia Wallace's mom. The 7th grader stood beaming next to a framed photograph of the waterfront she called "Sunset." In her explanatory essay, Wallace wrote: "This photograph is about love....The photograph experiences all that is good [in] the world." Meaning: sunsets, the waterfront, spindly tree branches, flowers, and a couple.

Wallace says that before she took the shot, she overheard the couple talking about marriage.

"I hope she said yes," Wallace says.

Wallace thought they were in love. I point out that the woman has her back turned to the man. I feel like such a killjoy. "I think she's probably saying 'maybe let's wait' or 'not right now,'" Wallace explains.

Either way, Wallace is still hopeful. So much of the art was aspirational—a refuge from whatever chaos swirled around them. There were tributes to John Cena (marker, magazine clippings), 18-wheelers, and Martin Luther King Jr. (the artist rendered his face like stained glass—which worked), and a portrait of Santana Moss in a Redskins throwback jersey entitled "The Santana Moss Project."

Some reflected on the city's troubles. There was an anti-drug collage. And there was a painting that touched on the city's epidemic AIDS rate. Tiana, an 8th grader, made a tribute to Keith Haring with painted Oompa-Loompa like-figures with X's on their bellies under a caption that read "Silence =Death." Tiana wrote of the tribute: "When I do art I like to convey a message and express myself. It makes me feel good and free." Someone needs to get Tiana to the Corcoran.

And then there's Maurice Carter Jr.'s crazy-detailed, pencil-and-paint drawing of an upright dog clutching a scowling cat. He likes his art, he wrote, because: "I did not get disturbed by anyone else."

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