Former Malibuite uses art to cross cultural boundaries

Former Malibuite uses art to cross cultural boundaries

Originally published here –

Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
5:13 pm June 4, 2015
Former Juan Cabrillo art teacher Suzanne Demarco stood in front of a class of a dozen or so Haitian school children. She spoke English. Her two translators spoke French. The children spoke Creole.
Despite the barrier, though, the art did the talking. 

“Whether I teach in America for children who’ve had the privilege of being exposed to materials from 3 years old, or to these kids in Haiti who had never held a paint brush before, the results are still the same,” Demarco said. “With the visuals, they’re able to understand. Even without the language, the visuals allow the children to produce the same kinds of work.”

The work that Demarco spoke of was born out of a week-long series of lessons in portrait painting that she hosted for three schools and an orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti. She was there as a volunteer with the Community Coalition for Haiti, a nonprofit organization based in Vienna, Virginia that focuses on advancing healthcare in the region. 

Demarco went to Haiti armed with her own art curriculum, which she began developing during her 10-year stint at Juan Cabrillo, and which she recently incorporated into her first book, “Just Do Art 4 Kids: The Art of Teaching Art.” The book focuses on lessons that allow art to remain a part of children’s core curriculum and allow students to become the featured artists in their classrooms. 

Although Demarco had practiced her method is Santa Monica, Malibu and where she currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, her trip to Haiti was the first time she’d taken it abroad. 
“It confirmed my vision which has always been that we are blessed to have the means and materials for art right at our fingertips,” she said. “And when you give those materials to children who have never seen them before — never used paint, never seen a brush — they look just like any child doing art. They turn into mini Basquiats or Picassos — each of their portraits have unique personalities, but the outcome is the same because they’re all reading from the same recipe.”

Comparing her book to a cookbook, with her lesson plans serving as recipes, Demarco has found that her

“Just Do Art” method can be taught be virtually anyone and to virtually anyone. One of her translators, a young financial student, was able to lead one of the portrait classes with guidance from Demarco’s book.
Additionally, Demarco said, the art of portrait making, if taught to children at a young age, can have impacts on that child’s life for years to come. In the case of her Haitian students, Demarco said many of them had never seen their reflection in a mirror”.