July 11, 2019

Students from Escalante Elementary explore what work means to them and their families

A portion of the installation "Work" at Mestizo Coffeehouse during April and May 2019.|Poster for "Work" when it was on display at Library Square.|The entrance to the gallery at Mestizo Coffeehouse while "Work" was displayed on the walls during April and May 2019. The soundtrack was available on MP3 players and headphones.|Megan Hallett of Framework Arts discusses how her students at Escalante Elementary, created the art installation "Work/Trabajo" with their parents on KRCL 90.9 FM during its opening evening at Mestizo Coffeehouse.|||| A portion of the installation "Work" at Mestizo Coffeehouse during April and May 2019.|Poster for "Work" when it was on display at Library Square.|The entrance to the gallery at Mestizo Coffeehouse while "Work" was displayed on the walls during April and May 2019. The soundtrack was available on MP3 players and headphones.|Megan Hallett of Framework Arts discusses how her students at Escalante Elementary, created the art installation "Work/Trabajo" with their parents on KRCL 90.9 FM during its opening evening at Mestizo Coffeehouse.|||| |||||||

By Michael Evans

A few years ago local art teacher Megan Hallett saw an exhibit called “Work” at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. with famous paintings from its own collection. It inspired her to explore that theme with her students at Escalante Elementary School on Salt Lake City’s west side. The idea bore fruit in the spring of 2019, becoming a multimedia art show that amplifies the voices and images of Escalante’s families.

“Work/Trabajo” is a bilingual sound and visual art installation featuring photographs by 40 sixth graders and eight fifth graders depicting work and effortful lives. There are words written on the walls like: “My parents are bankers.” “My parent works at Delta.” “My dad is a construction worker.” They mingle with sentences like, “I want to be an artist.” “I want to be a zoo keeper.” “My dream job is to be myself.”

Fifty voices – young and old, Spanish and English – are heard through headphones and/or speakers, telling about the past, the future, their home life and ambitions. Listeners hear phrases such as, “Pay attention to school.” “Be better than us.” “Learn what you want to be.”

“You can hear their love for one another,” said Hallett.

The sounds and images together make a compelling experience when viewing Work/Trabajo as a show. The premiere was broadcast live by KRCL 90.9 FM’s RadioActive show at Mestizo Coffeehouse, as part of Salt Lake City’s prestigious Gallery Stroll in April.

Four streams flowed together to create the traveling exhibit -- Framework Arts, UMOCA, KRCL, and photography coach Eugene Tachinni from the U of U and SLCC, who worked with the students using digital cameras provided by Escalante Elementary.

“Eugene taught them things like changing their points of view and taking many pictures to tell their stories,” said Hallett. 

Alan Ly of the Salt Lake Library helped Hallett make everything tangible by printing all the photos and wall text that were on display at Mestizo Art Gallery. Work/Trabajo was also at “Share Space” in Library Square, indoors during the Living Traditions Festival, where it was very well-attended by west-side families and festival-goers grateful to get out of the rain during the wet May weekend.

In the fall, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art will take Work/Trabajo around Utah in their mobile “Art Truck” gallery, and the authentic voices of Escalante Elementary School will speak through headphones or loudspeakers wherever the Art Truck goes during the school year, thanks to production assistance from Christian “Chovy” Camargo and Billy Palmer of KRCL Community Radio.

Hallett utilizes her nonprofit, Framework Arts, to access additional resources for art programs at Escalante as well as conduct other participatory art projects, like the “League of Reluctant Bicyclists,” which is on display at UMOCA for the rest of the summer.

Framework Arts is a local non-profit that sponsors Family Art Studio, where 5th graders and their parents participate in printing, outdoor art, and family portraits. The families also eat dinner when they come to Escalante Elementary.

Tachinni taught photography to participants in the Family Art Studio, and they contributed to Work/Trabajo along with the 6th graders. Through Framework Arts, Hallet is skilled at initiating collaborative partnerships with different organizations, such as KRCL, the SLC Public Library and UMOCA, to carry out these types of creative projects. But, she is quick to give credit to others.

“My students are capable of doing something that is just as visually interesting with just as compelling storytelling as many of the other things on display in the city,” Hallett said. “Not everybody’s stories are being told. One thing that we need to do as teachers is help kids understand that they may have to do the work that some people don’t have to do, and when they do that work they can get people to pay attention to what they are doing, and how they are living their lives.”

The Work/Trabajo exhibit will tour in the UMOCA Art Truck throughout Utah, to places like Provo High School, North Davis Prep, Monticello Academy, nearby Rose Park and Escalante Elementary Schools, and various Arts in the Park events during 2020.