Youth art addresses social justice
Throughout winter term at NAYA’s Many Nations Academy (MNA), students enrolled in the Cultural Arts class taught by Renae Menchaca, Pascua Yaqui/White Mtn. Apache, were encouraged to engage in difficult conversations on issues like racism, equality, missing and murdered Indigenous women, Indigenous issues, and pride as part of the class’s social justice art project.
Encouraged to find their voice, the students—who range in age from 14–18 and represent diverse Indigenous backgrounds—were invited to channel those discussions into art. With the option of creating contemporary or traditional arts, students created everything from traditional archery bows and paintings, to multimedia collages and more.
MNA is a school unlike any other. Students consistently say teachers and staff are like family and feel supported, sometimes for the first time in their educational lives. For months, teachers have witnessed the toll that learning from home and the pandemic in general have taken on youth.
For this reason, Menchaca is glad that her class allowed space for students to speak out. She explains, “I am grateful and content that our kids are able to express themselves at a time like this. Their work is a reflection of how they are feeling.”
MNA Principal Lisa Otero applauded Menchaca for her ability to reach students, stating, “Renea inspires our students to produce great art.”
For all the accolades Menchaca receives from Otero and fellow teachers, it is still just all about helping students live up to their full potential. She explains, “I find it empowering to see our MNA students use art as a means of resiliency, strength building, and self-care. I am honored and thankful to have the opportunity to share knowledge and grow with our MNA students.”