Award-winning art at Molina inspires school and community

It’s been said that a place without art is a place without an identity. That’s not the case for Moisés E. Molina High School where artwork, images, murals, and 3D sculptures can normally be seen throughout the school.

Visual arts teachers like Melissa James and Miriam Montaño Perez have made these displays possible with the aim of helping students develop a strong sense of identity.

The visual arts program at Molina High School is so successful that students recently took home 18 regional medals at the Texas High School Visual Art Scholastic Event (VASE). This weekend, three of the students’ works will be competing in the state competition in San Marcos, Texas. 

“Every art communicates some kind of message—whether it’s expressing culture or pride, and you’ll see that in the artwork of the students who went to VASE, because they were very personal pieces of art,” said James. 

The students who have advanced to state are: Diego Duran, a sophomore, and Jessica Martinez and Kevin Cecena, freshmen.

“Most of my students that went to the VASE competition were freshmen,” James said. “They were so proud of themselves and were able to experience and look at all the beautiful work at the event.”

“They had to speak to a juror and tell them their artist statement,” she added. “They had to explain what it meant to them personally, and explain the art element and design principles, which was part of their score.”

Beyond the classroom and competitions, Montaño Perez feels that art plays another important role in students’ lives.

“Art has really helped our students find their own identity, and has helped them express their emotions,” she said. “As they’re working through their art work, they visualize what they’re feeling and it helps them better understand themselves. Art plays this role for a lot of students.” 

Both Montaño Perez and James attribute much of the success of the visual arts program to their principal, Jacob Núñez, who has helped them find new spaces for art to exist in the school. 

“We had this empty wall and our principal, Mr. Núñez, suggested that it would be a good place to have a mural, and he helped to fund the materials,” Montaño Perez said. “We had a group of students who painted the mural, and we guided them whenever they needed help.”

The mural was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic “Starry Night” painting and represents both Molina and Starry Night. It fuses a sense of pride that says, “That’s my school displayed in my artwork,” she said.

Not only has art in the school inspired the students, but it’s inspired team members as well.

“Art in the school really raises morale,” James said. “I’ve had so many compliments on the 3D sculptures throughout the school, and I’ve received requests from people wanting those word sculptures above their doors. It’s bright and colorful and it gives us a platform to show our students work.” 

Outside of the school, students have also had the opportunity to show their work in community spaces, including the Kiva Gallery at Mountain View College and a Día de Los Muertos exhibition at Arts Mission Oak Cliff.

“It was nice for students to see a part of themselves in their art,” Montaño Perez said. 

Both James and Montaño Perez hope that collaborations for students to showcase their artwork in the community continue, as they both see the impact that organizing exhibitions can have on the students, school, and community. 

“It gives students the opportunity to have their artwork out there for others to see,” Montaño Perez said. “It will really motivate them and encourage them, and they will take what they learned here at Molina and use it beyond high school.” 

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