The HRC's Civic Humanist team took a trip to the High School for Performing and Visual Arts (PVA for short) on Wednesday, October 14. PVA hosted Fellow Jessica Davenport and local artist and former PVA student Whitney Sparks. The duo teamed up to offer an incredibly stimulating and thoughtful discussion about race, cultural stereotyping, and art as a source of creative disruption in regard to political agency. Jessica and Whitney dynamically engaged two large groups of PVA students (about 70 students per group)—at times discussions were heated and meaningful in the best of ways. We’ve since received several creative writing responses from PVA students that can be viewed here.
One striking moment of the talk was when Whitney shared about her own personal experience of being a former PVA student who ended up not receiving her diploma! This was her first time back to PVA since leaving the school in 2003, and here’s some of what she had to share of her experience:
In my senior year I left PVA with School Year Abroad to spend the year in Zaragoza, Spain. Despite the fact that in order to get into this program required me to apply a year in advance, included multiple essays and recommendations from my teachers and guidance counselor, I found out the week before my flight, that due to my decision to pursue educational enrichment abroad, I would not be allowed to graduate from HSPVA at all. I was shocked at the time, but certain of my commitment to expand my horizons. I left and never looked back. You’re looking at a high school “rise out.” That day in fact, when I was 17, was perhaps the last time I was in this building. I wrote about my experience for my college application essays to Yale and Harvard, the only two schools I applied to, and was accepted at both universities. At HSPVA I was a dancer with low self esteem, a sad story, and a dream of more. Now I am a successful visual artist and Yale graduate with an MFA from Zurich University of the Arts in Europe. Read all of Whitney's story here.
Jessica and Whitney delivered nuanced cultural insights and intellectual challenges to a wonderfully diverse group of PVA students, and it was indeed a memorable first fall trip for the HRC's Public Humanities program. The Civic Humanist team was also assisted by HRC Fellow Mark Schmanko and a group of PVA teachers who welcomed us and made things go smoothly. Thank you PVA, thank you Jessica and Whitney, thank you all!
*Jessica Davenport speaking to PVA students (on the left) and an art piece (on the right) by local Houston artist and former PVA student Whitney Sparks
*This picture of PVA's ceiling hints at the wonderful creativity and energy of the school environment.