RiseUp Community School Lets Students Sound Off on Social Justice With Art

You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

RiseUp Community School, a ten week-old charter school at 1801 Federal, is designed for “students who have either dropped out of school or are at risk of being unsuccessful in a traditional environment,” says arts and activism teacher Levi Arithson. But RiseUp’s program offers more than a GED; it’s a second chance for students to earn a high school diploma at a place created just for them. “We youth up, which means we listen to the needs of our students,” explains Arithson. 

“We also have a lot of project-based learning,” he continues. “We’re using core standards, but the issues are rooted in issues relevant to the students’ lives.” His art classes are nontraditional, for example, and “look at how art can be used as a tool to find your voice,” Arithson says.

He divided his Social Justice art class into two parts. “We spent the first half of class learning about social justice movements," he explains. "From there, the kids selected an issue they were passionate about, and created art around that topic.” The culmination of the class will be a multi-media, interactive exhibit in which students sound off on a wide range of topics, including immigration, domestic violence, objectification of women and police brutality. The pieces are still in progress, but they'll be finished in time for this Friday's exhibit at Youth on Record.

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“The person working on objectification of women is doing a giant sculpture, and the person studying domestic violence has a painting that’s built in a comic-style format,” Arithson says. And nineteen-year-old Jacob Armijo is using paint, sharpie and canvas to build a piece around the issue of police brutality.

When he was in a traditional high school, Armijo had problems at home.  “Sometimes I was homeless, and my grandma was sick. I’d miss school days or wouldn’t come. I didn’t have enough credits, so I dropped out,” he recalls. He also had problems with the law. “When I’ve gotten arrested, some of the cops in Sheridan and Englewood...they don’t get to know us,” Armijo continues. “There are some people who are bad and deserving, but it turns out that when cops are having a bad day, they take it out on all of us, and don’t hear our story or listen to what we’re saying.”

When he heard about a school where he’d have another chance at a high school diploma, Armijo was eager to sign up. “I am doing good so far; in another year I’ll be one of the first to graduate from this school," he says. "The expectation here is that we graduate.”

The students aren't the only ones who'll be speaking up at this exhibit; Arithson had the idea of making the entire show interactive by providing Post-its, so people can jot down comments and stick them near the art. “Also, there’s going to be a banner where spectators can write down how they raise their voices," he adds.

The exhibit will feature a film premiere and magazine release, too. Arithson’s Digital Storytelling class will be sharing eight professional-quality shorts that move their personal narratives, and his Spoken Word class will launch its self-published magazine.

The Raise Your Voice exhibit will run from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, November 6, at Youth On Record, 1301 West Tenth Avenue. For more information, visit RiseUp’s website or Facebook page.

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