Arts Interview: Putting Form To The Past

The Adult Students At Gordon Bernell Share Their Personal Narratives In Telling Stories

Maggie Grimason
4 min read
The students of Gordon Bernell translate their lives into art artifacts in Telling Stories (Gordon Bernell Arts Department)
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For seven years Gordon Bernell Charter School, which explicitly serves adult learners at six different campuses, has produced an art show with the aim of sharing the perspectives of the many students they serve. This time around the show is called Telling Stories, and within it, students find new languages to share their experiences and, by proxy, their truths. Many students in this exhibition have used their tattoos and scars as an avenue to share their histories in compelling works taking many shapes.

Looking ahead to the opening—which takes place on Thursday, May 3, at the Special Collections Library (423 Central Ave. NE) from 4 to 6pm—the multi-campus school’s Arts Director, Juli Cobb, as well as 27-year-old student and artist at Roma Campus, Valorita Domingo, shared their particular experiences of engineering this show. Domingo’s work in the exhibition (which runs through June 7) is a handmade book detailing her own history, weaving together experiences drawn from many identities, such as being Navajo, a family member and a student.

Alibi: What does your position as art director at the school entail?

Cobb: We like to say, at Gordon Bernell, that we all wear many hats. As well as directing our two art shows each year, I’m in the classroom teaching. I [work in the] language arts, art and special education parts of the Roma campus, which is just one campus in our constantly … expanding school. I also take care of our community garden and head the cooking program. To start planning the exhibition, I dug through old writing and art projects of my own [and] looked through materials and ideas my artist and teacher friends have sent me. [I also] collaborated daily with my colleagues here at school.

How was this centering thematic element of "Telling Stories" chosen?

Cobb: Our theme is one I’ve been exploring with students through creative writing for several years. This year, our Roma team decided to do a project across the curriculum on oral storytelling. It has been exciting and rewarding to see how the other campuses took this prompt to come up with their own versions of storytelling and [how to share] histories.

What was the experience of making this work like? How did it feel?

Domingo: It’s very messy work but in the end we created something more beautiful. It felt great taking the time to create my own book.

Were these stories you had been wanting to share for a long time?

Domingo: Yes, I’ve been wanting to share these stories for a long time about my traditional lifestyle. I’ve grown to realize [how] many people in different cultures are drawn to Native Americans and their beliefs. I love to tell [these] stories—even if I am repeating myself three times a day.

What is the role of art in quality education for adults?

Cobb: The role of art and creativity is essential in all education. I’ve found through working with adults … that many of them don’t feel that their creative work is valid, or they might say, “Oh, I used to do art when I was a kid.” … I could go on and on about the importance of developing creative thinking in children and adults. It is vital.

Valorita, did you learn anything about yourself in the process of making this work?

Domingo: Yes. I interviewed my sister, Hayley Domingo [who is a graduate of Gordon Bernell, and is now attending CNM]. She mentioned some things that caught my attention when it comes to our family. I found it fascinating to learn more about my history from even before I was born.

What do you hope others might learn?

Domingo: I hope it will inspire more people to look into their background history before it all fades away. I feel it’s important to keep these stories going for the future.

How does it feel to have an audience for these personal stories?

Domingo: I never thought I would have an audience—people I’ve never met before—take the time to look at the book I’ve made. It feels amazing, as if I was someone famous.

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