Exploring the District’s First-Ever Teacher Appreciation Art Exhibition
SCHOOLS | May 17, 2021
Exploring the District’s First-Ever Teacher Appreciation Art Exhibition

When you look at Soy Mis Antepasadas (I’m My Ancestors) for the first time, you’ll notice a bird that seems to be formed out of a trail of smoke. The smoke is copal, which was originally used like incense by indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America to cleanse their environment. Ms. Juana Duran, an art teacher at Peace and Education Coalition High School and the artist behind the piece, also added monarch butterfly wings to symbolize migration. 

“I wanted to represent migration as a natural form of life. We travel from one country to another or even within the same country,” she said. “Even in Chicago, I’ve seen that there is migration from one neighborhood to another.” 

Ms. Duran is originally from Mexico but grew up in Southern Illinois. Before she became an art teacher in Chicago, she was a migrant farmworker in Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. She wanted her piece to reflect both her experiences growing up in a migrant community and her indigenous heritage. 

“I would work in the fields with women who would come home, cook, clean, and still have the time and energy to create. I wanted to know where that strength came from because I saw it all around me,” she said. “I learned that strength is given to us. We pass down recipes, pass down language, and we can survive this world because of the strength of our family, the love that we have, and the richness of our culture.” 

Her piece is one of many within the district’s inaugural Teacher Appreciation Art Exhibition. In total, 84 teachers submitted artwork that was reviewed by students before being placed either in the main exhibition or honorable mentions. 

Another one of the pieces is Healing Through Art by Ms. Simeko Washington, a paraprofessional and data strategist at Foster Park Elementary School. Ms. Washington took a different approach than Ms. Duran in terms of technique, simply pouring paint onto a board and shifting the board around. However, she’ll be the first person to tell you that art can be powerful regardless of how you create it. 

“Art has always been a space for me to collect my thoughts and lose myself in what I’m thinking versus what is going on in the world,” she said. “Healing and meditative practices are big for me, as is reclaiming my personal hope, and art is a way to find that peace.” 

The exhibition also helped her bond with her colleagues. She explains that taking some time to paint together completely shifted the atmosphere in the school building because it allowed them to immerse themselves in something completely unrelated to the stress of trying to stay on top of everything during the pandemic. 

In the future, Ms. Washington would love to see the district create an online exhibition that allows students and staff to submit artwork together. 

“It would be awesome to have an exhibition about social or spatial justice and see what that looks like from the child’s perspective and then from the staff’s perspective,” she said. “Then, we could have conversations about it. That dialogue would be impactful and dynamic.” 

Ms. Duran says she was inspired to work for CPS because of the richness of the culture and art found within its schools. As she prepares to wrap up another year as an art teacher, she hopes students take advantage of opportunities to express themselves—just as she did through the Teacher Appreciation Exhibition. 

“The beautiful thing about living in a city is we have access to all of these programs for CPS students like After School Matters and One Summer Chicago,” she said. “If a student wants to get more involved with art, they can ask their art teacher or counselor, or see what’s going on in their neighborhood or community.” 

Are you finished looking through the Teacher Appreciation Exhibition? Check out this virtual exhibition created by students at Curie High School that focuses on self-care.