Naperville's culture of creativity By Faye Tyschper

There are two minutes left in the passing period. The hustle and bustle of the Naperville North halls dies down to a muffled hum. Looking down at the ground, many students avoid any form of interaction, just trying to get to class before the bell rings. For most students during these final seconds before classes, stopping to admire the art hanging on the walls is the least of their concerns.

Although it may occasionally go unrecognized, art is everywhere. The walls we pass, the buildings we visit, and the people we talk to all have unique stories, each an outlet of expression, reflection and history. Fortunately, many schools, students and local artists demonstrate an undying commitment and advocacy when it comes to preserving the presence of artistry within the Naperville community.

Naomi Yeo, a sophomore and member of the NNHS Art Club believes that art provides a creative outlet for everyone that produces or sees it.

"Art is one of the best ways for an individual to freely express themselves in a way that is nonverbal, yet still impactful. In all honesty, the reason why I love art is that it provides a sense of inclusivity for everyone. No matter what your skill level, background, or ideas are, art can possess a unique, personal meaning to anyone. Yeo said. ”I really find myself appreciating the little things around me when I draw, it is my way to escape."

While demonstrating their interest in the arts at Naperville North, some students believe that the school offers a limited amount of Fine Arts courses. Junior Nithya Rachapalli expressed that while she is glad that the school emphasizes learning in fine arts, she still believes that an emphasis on complete creative freedom is equally as important when teaching them.

"I think there should be more fine arts classes where you get complete freedom to create whatever you want," Rachapalli said.

Yeo and Rachapalli are not alone in their admiration and interest in artistic opportunities for students. Many psychologists suggest that the use of art and other forms of expression are extremely useful when it comes to relieving stress, especially in younger generations. Azizi Marshall, the founder of the Center for Creative Arts, which specializes in art-based counseling, gives three ways that patients can further their understanding of a creative atmosphere.

"Empathy, Grace, and Congruence," Marshall said.

These three steps are vital in developing an individualized understanding of artwork and how it reflects personal struggles or emotions, according to Marshall. By holding a sense of open-mindedness to the world around us, we’re opened up to a more profound understanding of others' experiences.

Despite the proven benefits of art in the lives of younger generations, according to 2018 data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 23 states in the U.S require Fine Arts credits for graduation.

In Illinois, the State Board of Education (ISBE) urges students to "emphasize learning through the artistic process," by taking courses that not only veer away from traditional learning methods, but also allow the exploration of personal interests and abilities.

Despite the state's requirement, access to art programs across the Chicagoland area remains unequal. According to a 2019 report by Chicago Public Schools, 35% of students in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods remain "without consistent access to high-quality arts education." Fortunately, in districts like District 203, all students have the opportunity to access a variety of fine arts courses.

A 2017-2019 State of the Arts Report within Chicago Public Schools

Alongside students and psychologists in support of art education in schools, various art instructors also voice the importance of creative education in students’ lives. Andrew Jensen, an art instructor at NNHS, stated that art education is "a key factor" in the development of young people.

"Art is a way for younger generations to express themselves that doesn't have to do with reading or grammar. It is a way for people to conceptualize and understand the stories behind things like paintings and drawings," Jensen said.

Often, modern education focuses on the standardization of knowledge rather than individuality and creativity. With continuous pressures to meet potentially unrealistic academic standards, decide on postsecondary plans and participate in extracurriculars, students are likely to fall subject to this trend.

In light of this, advocates of preservation of the arts within the Naperville community continue to speak out-- inside and outside of NNHS walls.

Ariana Poe, a Naperville-based artist, explained that using art as a means for cultural, emotional, and social expression remains at the forefront of her artistic philosophy. Poe says that for younger generations, "art provides a space for stories to be heard and seen."

Born in Argentina and raised in South America, Poe offered some of her insight as to what inspires her artwork as a reflection of cultural identity. When asked about how she began painting, Poe recounts a time when "she wanted to invest in something that reflected [her] culture and creativity, that was also a personal process."

You're an artist not because you've won awards or been critiqued, but because you have an appreciation for the world around you," Poe said.

Having a "creative outlook" or an ability to create art often does not stem from one's ability to gain recognition. Instead, it is the accessibility and willingness to invest in your own creativity that makes the most impact.

For Poe, the increased use of technology in the everyday lives of younger generations especially allows for more "diversity of thought and inspiration from the world around us." With the popularity of social media platforms among teenagers, Poe is hopeful that this will "allow others to connect through artwork," just as she did when she was younger.

A look inside Poe's home, and some pieces in progress

The way we consume, receive, and experience art has evolved and will continue to do so. A few key elements to preserving its value within the Naperville community will, however, remain constant: education and understanding. With these priorities at the forefront, Naperville and its residents are able to explore new outlets of expression, recognize inequality that exists outside of our community and better understand the stories of those around them in a creative way.

"We live in a world where the value of art is constantly changing, and will continue to do so. It is imperative to not only educate, but to understand the stories and history of those around us," Yeo said.