Going into high school, you’re still trying to figure out who you are. It became apparent to me why people had existential crises. It’s hard to find out who you are when no one knows your name. When I started high school, I was no longer Carolina Jimenez or CJ.I became my student number (8259745).
Locker number (367)
My GPA (2.3)
My test scores (97 percentile in English; 35 percentile in Math; 85 percentile in Writing/Reading; I still have no clue what that means…)
I became more obsessed with how I looked on paper than what I was learning. I felt myself being remodeled from a human being into a receptacle for lectures and test scores. Learning should result from curiosity, not obligation.
~ Carolina Jimenez, May 2010 (senior year of high school)
And then, in a slightly embarrassed way, I explain that I’m the chair of a youth advisory board at a local afterschool art studio and that I’m in the midst of a self-designed curriculum in organic farming and sustainable living practices. […]
In some ways, this plan was my way of proving to the academic world that I can educate myself without desks and textbooks. […]
So, part of the reason I wanted a huge project like this book was to help cope with the idea of heading into that great big unknown called college life.
It helped me hash out this year in a way that I wouldn’t have without it. It forced me to reflect on what I did this year and what made it important and relevant to my potential future in the academic world
~ Artist Statement Excerpt, Carolina Jimenez, February 2011
Jason Yoon (JY): I think these pieces [pictured above] powerfully talk about “measuring impact.” Now that some time has passed since you’ve made these, how are you thinking about these issues now?
Carolina Jimenez (CJ): I’ve been thinking about what Newt Gingrich said, that poor kids should clean their school’s bathrooms. I have a real problem with this attitude that [certain] kids should always be working, that they always have to be on task, always follow directions.
What happens to youth if they don’t have a place to explore and have freedom and space? I think New Urban Arts lets students explore and balances that with always questioning and challenging their thinking. Our audience [at New Urban Arts] are students who have very little agency in their lives, they are a population who’s generally not listened to. What does it mean to free someone to self evaluate and for it to happen organically?
It’s really important to give all kids a voice, not just privileged kids. My entire life, I’ve lived in really small apartments where we didn’t have lots of space. I couldn’t write on the walls because we didn’t own our own home, I could never make a lot of noise because I couldn’t wake up my neighbors. New Urban Arts was the place I could do that.
JY: You’ve made art about being a trouble maker. [CJ screenprinted a series of popular shirts emblazoned with the words “Be the trouble you want to see in the world” tweaking the famous Gandhi quote.]
CJ: Without New Urban Arts, I don’t I would have ever learned to question privilege. When I think about trouble making and privilege, I think of Dennis the Menace.
JY: That’s a really interesting way to talk about the inequity of which kids gets more leeway to be “trouble makers” in our society. Dennis the Menace lives in what seems like an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood that probably isn’t aggressively policed, he’s not subject to stop-and-frisks, and he’s not racially profiled. By virtue of his privilege, he has more freedom to play, to get in trouble. But shouldn’t all kids have those chances?
CJ: Before New Urban Arts, I was really afraid of everything. Growing up, my mom was so focused on keeping me safe in a neighborhood where safety was a big concern. New Urban Arts was where that started to change, it was a place that embraced mistakes, it affirmed me when I did well and questioned and challenged me when I didn’t. I read an article about why it’s important to teach your kid to argue, because it teaches them to explain themselves. And that’s something that I learned from artist mentors at New Urban Arts.
JY: Maybe “making trouble” should receive more attention as a form of social impact.