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Stories of Impact

Arts and Culture

Expanding Access to the Arts in Detroit Public Schools with Pewabic Pottery

“Our mobile workshops give students an arts foundation, so when they go to an arts-focused high school, they have the same skill set as a student from a suburban school. It’s catching Detroit Public Schools back up to what all American schools should have available.”

Anne Dennis, Education Director, Pewabic Pottery

Detroit’s inner-city youth often lack access to the outlets for creativity and self-expression that are available to their peers in the suburbs. When these teens enter high school and college, they start with a social and cultural disadvantage compared with teens from more affluent families. Detroit Public Schools and Pewabic Pottery are working to address this inequity.

Founded in 1903, Pewabic Pottery’s mission is to “enrich the human spirit through clay.” It serves this mission by making art, sharing the art of making and enhancing the cultural fabric of Detroit. Pewabic Pottery’s underlying belief is that ceramic art is a powerful vehicle for youth development. Children and teens crave opportunities to express themselves, and Pewabic programs engage participants by offering artistic opportunities to explore self-expression and creativity through clay.

School Workshop Raku Firing: Photo Courtesy of Pewabic and Kristy Lumden PhotographyDownload a high-resolution version of this photo.

With funding from Walters Family Foundation, Pewabic is now bringing a series of in-school ceramic workshops to three Detroit middle schools. This grant will allow Pewabic to increase access to the arts for underserved youth in schools with little or no arts programming.

Workshops focus on a range of topics beginning with the basics for building ceramic vessels. Students sketch and brainstorm forms and structures and learn about the minerals and material used to make clay. They advance to learning about different applications of clay and how ceramics are used in society. From there, students try out their talents in creating three-dimensional ceramic art, exploring the science and chemistry of glazing and firing. The workshop culminates in an art showcase day, where the students’ work is displayed in an exhibition.

“We’re not just training students to become ceramic artists,” says Dennis. “We’re teaching them  valuable problem-solving skills. We’re giving them the opportunity to learn about natural resources in their local area and how clay has shaped the visual and architectural landscape of the city.”

The curriculum also exposes students to careers in the arts and offers opportunities to stay involved in the community. “Detroit has a rich art scene historically, but schools never really were let in on that because of the lack of focus on art in education,” says Dennis. “We’re changing that. We heard one student say she felt educationally privileged because of this program, which is exactly the point.”