Car Artist/Art Teacher at Edison Middle School
By Beth Secor (from The How To's of Art Cars)
Rebecca Bass has been teaching art in Houston inner city schools for fifteen years.
In 1991 she was teaching at Edison Middle School, located in Houston's Second Ward
near downtown. More than 90% of her students were considered to be at risk. By
Rebecca's estimates, most were either in gangs or in danger of joining gangs in the next couple
of years. Many of her students never even considered graduating from high school,
much less enrolling in college. Apathy towards school and life ran high. In January of
that year, she decided to engage her seventh and eighth grade students in a long
term project, the design and creation of an art car. She felt that not only would
this collaborative project unify her students as a group, it would take them out of
the confines of their insular world and show them a positive alternative to gangs.
Initially, reactions among her students and others in the school were adverse. "The
kids acted like I was crazy. The other teachers' feelings about me were confirmed I was
a certified loony. The idea of desecrating something as sacred as a car was
horrifying." But her instinct paid off. After a couple of weeks, Rebecca saw something
wonderful happening. "The kids developed this incredible sense of camaraderie. I could see
them growing as members of the human race. And this sense of pride wasn't just confined
to these 30 kids, it spread to the other kids in the school, their teachers, and the
kids' families. By the day of the Art Car Parade we had the whole Second Ward behind
us." That year, pitted against experienced adult artists, Edison Middle School won first
prize in the Art Car Parade. The following year they again claimed the prize.
Rebecca feels that the experience her students gained through working on the art
cars definitely changed their lives. "I can't claim that every child was saved; naturally
some succumbed to joining gangs and getting pregnant at 15. But definitely I could see
a difference. Suddenly kids who didn't care, cared. They had a sense of purpose, a
sense of pride, and a sense of community. Two of my students are getting ready to
graduate from the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and go to college. This
isn't remarkable in and of itself, except that these were two kids who six years ago I
was really afraid wouldn't see it past the seventh grade."
Art car projects produce positive results and are great for any school, no matter
what size of classroom, socioeconomic makeup, or locale. As you continue to read you
will see that art cars are for everybody and that people create art cars for every reason
under the sun.