Walter Morris' dream was not deferred thanks to New York City artist Tim Rollins and his K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) project.
Walter, a 10-year-old student at Centennial School, and 23 other Lawrence students recently had their watercolors displayed at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University. The artworks were based on a poem by Langston Hughes that begins "What happens to a dream deferred?"
"It's like a lot of artists work their whole lives and don't get something in a museum," Walter said, as he sipped on a glass of punch among the crowd of parents and art lovers at the exhibit's opening reception earlier this month. The exhibit will be on display at the museum through May 26.
Tianna Dunnaway, a 10-year-old Cordley School student, seemed awestruck by the notion her art was hanging in a museum.
"It's like what Tim said, 'We're going to make art, but we're also going to make history.' I never knew I could paint," she said.
The youngsters in fifth through seventh grades were selected by their art teachers to participate in a five-day, intensive after-school workshop with Rollins at the museum. At the end of the workshop, they had memorized two of Hughes' poems, learned to identify the works of several artists by sight, discovered the music of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and completed numerous artworks.
"I was really excited. I had never worked with an artist before," said Taurean Smith, a 12-year-old student at Kennedy School. "I didn't know what the outcome would be, but I really enjoyed it."
Before the workshop, Taurean mainly drew with pencils and crayons. Now he has an interest in painting.
"(Tim) showed us he was down to business and if we worked with him it would be a lot of fun," he said.
Rollins said the idea behind the project was to combine literary text and painted images. Hughes' poem seemed especially appropriate for the students' age.
"Kids are alienated from their dreams and the capacity for dreaming. I wanted to work with them on a positive explosion," he said, referring to a line in Hughes' poem. "All great art tries to solve a genuine mystery or problem."
Rollins and K.O.S. have worked together since 1982, when Rollins took a teaching job in the South Bronx to create a special course for art students with educational and emotional disabilities. Since then, he has worked with students throughout the world to create artworks based on literary texts.
Rollins looks for a diverse group of students and for those who dislike school but love art.
"Art is nothing more than hope made material," he said.
Lemorris Lowery, an 11-year-old student at Wakarusa Valley School, was proud to have been selected.
"Out of the whole school, they picked two kids, and one of them was me," he said. "It's cool having something in a museum, and everybody will see it when they come here."