Kelly Eriksen had always admired the art world from afar, but her only experience was taking art class at Palmer Trinity School.
Now, the 18-year-old student’s artwork is being featured in a gallery in Miami’s Design District.
Better yet, she and 19 other teens curated the show themselves.
Teens from high schools all over South Florida were hand-picked to take part in Locust Arts Builders, a three-week summer intensive program in which students collaborate as both artists and curators to create an art exhibit from scratch.
Their show, inspired by weird, “only in Florida” news stories, is on display for a month at Locust Projects, a nonprofit exhibition space along North Miami Avenue.
“I learned to push and develop ideas further,” she said. “We would discuss a piece to push and refine the idea.”
In the program, students are tasked with putting together a complete exhibit on deadline.
At first, the students experimented with new ideas every day, pushing stronger concepts forward until the group as a whole vote on a cohesive theme for the show.
“Every day, we would make something different. We’d get an idea, write it on paper and tape it to the wall,” said Matthew Alvarez, a student at TERRA Environmental Research Institute. “It broke the ice, it unclogged our gears in our minds.”
The students had two Miami-based artists as mentors throughout the program, but the teens ultimately called the shots.
“They kept us realistic while we had total creative freedom,” said Ezekiel Binns of Miami Edison Senior High.
With freedom comes great responsibility for the students. It is on their shoulders to pull off the exhibit with multiple original pieces by a given opening night.
The hardest part, Ezekiel said, was pushing through each person’s creativity while also compromising on art pieces that could be part of a unified show.
“By the third week, people started disagreeing, because there’s no turning back at that point,” said Ezekiel, 16. “We had to scrap a lot of ideas in order to progress.”
The students used unique materials for their pieces — a real-life palm tree, sand, leaves, rotting fruit, plaster and other scrap materials, like a broken radiator and a metal pole.
Ezekiel said they got crafty with how they found materials, searching in junkyards, for example.
While the final pieces all seem very different in style and execution, the students used the Miami Art Deco style colors — cotton candy pink and baby blue.
The students also printed all the Florida news stories that served as inspiration for the artwork, and stapled across the length of one wall in the gallery, all the way from floor to ceiling.
By the end of the program, the group of student artists learned how to collaborate and help improve an idea or art piece collectively.
“We’re all creative in general; we’re all independent thinkers. There were people that had ideas, and others who would execute,” Ezekiel said. “We didn’t want it to look like it was just a senior showcase.”
For many students, Locust Projects’ LAB program is an experience that changes their outlook on the art scene.
Theo Rodino, a student at TERRA Environmental Research Institute, had never taken an art class, but the school art teacher recommended him for the program anyway. He also stood out because of his other aptitudes, like writing.
“His application was unique because he had skills beyond art,” said Monica Lopez de Victoria, one of the program’s mentors.
Now Theo, 17, is taking his artwork a step further, and now he is working on 3-D pieces.
“I was able to change so much because they were able to put together this program,” he said. “I never took art class, but when I had a free period, I would just hang out in the art room and paint for fun.”
For Kelly, who wants to pursue art, the program reassured her that she can achieve success in something she loves.
“I’m going to art school next year, and I’m really excited now. No matter what I study, I know I will find a place for myself,” she said. “I know that I’ll be successful in the future as long as I’m passionate.”
If you go
The Locust Art Builders (LAB) program is on display until Aug. 8 at Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami.