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Compass Student’s Story from RISING STARS

MMeade_Compass_Student MMarty Meade, has been a Youth in Arts Mentor Artist for well over 20 years. Through our Arts Unite Us program, Marty has worked with students at Compass Academy (formerly Braun High School), an alternative elementary/middle/high school for students who experience underlying mental health challenges. She teaches students how to create artwork in a variety of media including, but not limited to painting, drawing, printmaking, and even glass making! The stories she shares in conjunction with the caliber of work her students produce continues to astound.

Marty enters many of her students in RISING STARS each year. This year’s blindly adjudicated exhibition, features 6 works by six Compass academy students, including anonymous student “M” who won the Youth in Arts award. “M was blown away with the award,” Marty shared, “and the staff was too. His response with the award, was immediate doubt, ‘but I’m not very good.’ He received it with the middle school and high school kids present. Everyone applauded, and I reminded him that the judges were professionals, and that all they had was a number and not a name. There was a moment when I saw him sink into his chair and tears filled his eyes.”

M, like many of the students at Compass, experienced trauma at an early age. His winning entry into RISING STARS is a block print on watercolor paper entitled, Self Portraits. “He has been drawing the image from day one, regardless of the assignment,” Marty said. “He has used acrylics, India ink, permanent markers with marbling, etc. I just let him do it and often wonder where it comes from. He did have a beautiful fish painting…but when I asked him which to choose [for the show] he instantly picked the prints.”

“My wonderful students at Compass confront challenging mental health or emotional struggles. The fact that they only get 45 minutes of art each week is unbelievable, and yet they make such wonderful art. I have been deeply moved that our students have been able to receive awards in spite of this limitation.”

Thank you, Marty for all you do!


A successful semester of art at Compass Academy


Compass Academy is an alternative elementary/middle/high school for students who experience underlying mental health challenges. Marty Meade, a certified Art Therapist  who works year-round with Compass Academy, says of her goal is to have the students “connect with the creative process, and to know that it is a safe space to inhabit when they are feeling powerless.”

She expands on their projects over the last semester, explaining: “We have painted with watercolors and acrylics, decorated sugar skulls, and made fused glass pendants and small plates.  The students have experimented with marbling paper and some print making as well. We play with concepts like scale, sometimes working big and sometimes in miniature. For some, it’s a process of learning to live with mistakes and let go, and for others it’s a time to slow down.”

Every day brings new adventure, and sometimes new challenges. Students who are new to the class in particular can experience understandable hesitation. Marty explains “I have new students who come in feeling unsure and occasionally defensive. One particular high school student painted a beautiful apple on her first day, but when I complimented her, her response was that she ‘didn’t like art’. I backed off, and as the following weeks went by she became more and more engaged. Her Sugar skull was delicate as was the trinket box that she carefully painted. Last week we did marbling and I gave them straws to blow the paint around in the water. She soon was dropping the dyes into the bubbles and then experimented with dish detergent. On Halloween as they were painting masks I read two stories from Grimm Fairy Tales. She immediately knew the version of Cinderella, and giggled as I read the vivid descriptions of the stepsisters trying on the shoe. All the while, I’m watching the hard-edged woman become a playful child again.”

However, time has had a positive effect on many of her students. Now in his second year, one student has transformed from being disruptive to the class leader. Marty notes that “his art is wonderful, and I’m trying to think of a creative way to gather his images of cats.” Another student, who Marty refers to as “I”, can hardly contain himself during art class and loves making things for his mother. Marty builds on these experiences to help students think about who they are and how their work might reflect their character, beliefs, and values. During the trinket box project, Marty brought in uncut rocks with opals inside and asked everyone to pick a stone that they felt reflected them most. She adds, “They were all very careful as they examined the stones.”

Marty credits her time in the classroom to the collaboration of the Marin County Office of Education and Youth in Arts. She is grateful for the opportunity to be with the children for the entire school year, and adds: “It has made such a difference in my relationship to the students.”

Thank you to the contract from the Kennedy Center and the funders who helped to make this happen:


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Celebrating Teaching Artists at INSPIRE Opening

More than 70 teachers, students, parents, and community members came out to celebrate the opening of the INSPIRE teaching artists exhibition at the YIA gallery on Friday, December 14th. The event, held as part of Downtown San Rafael’s Second Fridays Art Walk, celebrated artwork from 25 teaching artists throughout Marin County. The reception offered a rare opportunity for the featured artists to catch-up and share tricks of the trade. Their lively conversation, and vibrant artwork certainly brightened up the rainy evening. Thank you teaching artists for all you do!

Barry Beach, Marin Academy
Deb Bennett, Jessica’s Haven
Katy Bernheim, Terra Linda High School
Cathy Bowman, Laurel Dell Elementary 
Beth Cederstrom, Sir Francis Drake High School
Martha Cederstrom, Sir Francis Drake High School
Gray Douglas, Tamalpais High School
Tracy Eastman, Cascade Canyon
Zach Gilmour, Tamalpais High School
Jill Hoefgen, DrawBridge
Julia James, Coleman Elementary & Cascade Canyon
Suzanne Joyal, Laurel Dell Elementary
Jackie La Lanne, Mill Valley School District
Liz Lauter, Redwood High School
Barbara Libby-Steinmann, Bacich Elementary
Jennifer Lipson, Saint Patrick School & Saint Anselm School
Taylor Mancini, Marin School for the Arts
Katya McCulloch, Marin Oaks & Loma Alta
Marty Meade, Compass Academy
Michele Montgomery, Kent Middle School
El Moody [Louis Murillo], Loma Alta
Cynthia Pepper, San Francisco Ballet
Josh Powell, James B. Davidson Middle School
Laurie Reemsnyder, Marin Catholic High School
Carina Ybarra, San Domenico School

Students Flourish as Artists and Teachers at Compass Academy

(By Mentor Artist Marty Meade, who has been working with the students of Compass Academy, formerly Braun, for 11 years.)

Compass Academy, formally known as Braun High School, has moved to a larger campus. The new building is providing me with an area that is five times bigger than before.  It means that the students can spread out, my materials are organized for their use, and they now have storage area for their weekly projects.

Besides the move, there is also an additional group of younger students who range in age from 7 to 12 year olds.  They are here because of behavior problems in other schools.

I have given every child their own journal so that they can express their feelings, or write about their experience that day.  The new group is challenging, but with great support I have had the opportunity to give the students an opportunity to try new materials.

Students have been able to work with acrylic paints on canvas, watercolor paper, marbling, edible art (sugar skulls),  decorating masks, origami, and fused glass pieces.

I want to share a story about “Brandon”… a junior high school boy from Guatemala.  When I first met him he expressed a lot of anxiety about the possibility of his father being deported.  He became the class clown and often would get attention by inappropriate behavior (ie: sexual drawings).   I began to notice that his drawings were typical of a 4 year old child and shared this with his therapist and indicated that they could use it for reference to get the additional help that he needed.

One day, after I brought bright colored paper, I found an Origami crane on the table, and the therapist indicated that “Brandon” had made it.  I was ‘blown away’, and expressed how complicated this was and how could we reach him more through origami. I asked his homeroom teacher if he could find something on YouTube on “1000 cranes” and share with the class before I got there the next week.

So the next week, I came in loaded with origami paper and asked “Brandon” if he could come into the high school class and show the others how to fold cranes.   “Brandon’ came in and proudly demonstrated the folding, with some of the kids giving him full attention, and others frustrated by the directions.  I was able to leave paper in the room for them to use while I was away.  Each week I would bring in more paper, and find complicated shapes filling the area.  We all watched “Brandon” change before our eyes. One teacher said that he seemed taller. I am thrilled that my hunch worked, and will never look at another crane in the same way.

I am happy that I have a year contract as it gives me a chance to really connect with these students. Thank you to the Marin County Office of Education, Buck Family Fund, and the Kennedy Center for allowing me to do this work.

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Experimenting with Materials at Braun High School

Mentor Artist Marty Meade worked again with the students of Braun Day Treatment to create expressive and unique works of art. (it’s her tenth year with YIA!) From Marty:

Braun High School is a Special Needs school for young people with emotional problems, supported with a clinical team.

I am just finishing another ‘blessed’ year with these students providing them a creative outlet to express their feelings, to explore something new, and to just have fun.  Besides offering a visual arts experience, I am also certified in Expressive Arts Therapy.

Students were able to explore acrylic paintings on canvas, watercolors and pastels.  Fused glass, and decorating sugar skulls. Each week they join me with enthusiasm and “what are we doing today, Marty”.  I have many who are reluctant to participate for fear of failure, but because of the variety of materials they slowly begin to participate.  Glass art is always a mystery, as they have no control over the finished piece.  Sugar skulls are just plain fun, as they are working with bright colored icings, and sugar.

The environment provides a safe place for these kids, but it takes patience as you plow through their resistance.  After a year of absolutely not wanting to participate, X, a beautiful young woman began to open up and express her feelings.   She was given a pumpkin shape, and I asked her to write some poetry… when she handed the finished piece to me there was a look of anxiety in her face.  When I read her words, I held back the tears, as she began to express sexual abuse at an early age.

A clinical staff person was with me, and we were able to work together as we sat with her privately.  I expressed how it made me feel, that she did not deserve this and that we were there for her. The following week, she returned to the classroom, but asked if she could just write, but stay in the classroom.  (That was fine with me).

I am grateful for Youth in Arts as they first provided my services to this school.   Additional funding is coming in to continue this weekly class, but one hour a week for art is still not enough.

Arts Unite Us is Youth in Arts program tailored for students in school with special needs. Youth in Arts is the only consistent provider of arts for special education programs in Marin.



Thank you to the Buck Family Fund of the Marin Community Foundation for supporting this program.

“They Mean Something to Me”

Written by YIA Mentor Artist, Marty Meade

VSA Braun High School


Braun High School changed the Clinical component this year, and the approach to working with these “At Risk” Students is different.

MMeadeThese are Junior and Senior High School students who suffer from emotional problems.   Many have disruptive control issues, others suffer deep depression. My challenge, is how to connect with them as a group.  Those students with control issues need to be ‘reeled’ in, so that they do not sabotage those who suffer depression.

I prepared a variety of art projects that would not only help them to express what they cannot talk about, but those that would provide them to new skills:

Upside Drawing Exercise using Watercolors:  learning to see in a new way, and how to control a medium that is difficult.  These pieces were matted in pre-cut mats.

Canvas/Acrylic paintings:  using a medium that can be controlled. Some students used drafting tape to create straight lines and patterns.

Haunted House: a photograph of a classic haunted house evokes hidden feelings.  In this exercise, a child revealed that he was carrying a secret that he was NEVER going to reveal, and that he hadn’t ‘gotten sick’ yet.  Another student was able to use rainbow colors behind the house to communicate about being bisexual… In each incident, I shared this information with the Clinical staff

Sugar Skulls:  We talk about Day of the Dead being a universal celebration at this time of year… photoRemembering loved ones, and also to be thankful for the harvests that we receive at this time. We used Royal Icing and Candied sugar for this project. This project always brings up discussions about families, their beliefs, and members that have died.

Glass Fusing/Jewelry and Small Plates: I decided to do this project for two days, as not all of the students were sure of the results.  There was a particularly powerful breakthrough with a junior high school student named “Jerry”.  He has been off the wall each week, unable to sit in my group with out disrupting. I met with the Director and Jerry before we began and told him that we were using material that would be potentially dangerous (cut glass), and asked if he thought he could control himself enough to participate.  He shrugged his shoulder and the Director indicated that that meant “Yes.” When Jerry came in he joked a few minutes, but then asked me to show him how to cut glass. He watched closely, following the precise direction that he needed without cutting himself. A few minutes later, he was completely engaged, focused and creating two beautiful pieces. I called the Director to observe what was going on, as it had not happened all year, and suggested that he be given more hands-on experiences.

Moments like Jerry’s breakthrough, or moments when a student confides in me and accepts the fact that I have to report it because “they mean something to me,” is why I continue this work.

Thank you again for supporting me to do this valuable work.

Marty Meade


Mixed Media with Mill Valley Middle School’s Special Day Class


VSA Mentor Artist:  Marty Meade

Children with Developmental Delays

After several years of working with the special day class at Mill Valley Middle School, I love the connection that  is made, usually after the second week.

We had fun playing with a form of block printing using foam core for the design, rolling ink with brayers and then using another brayer to apply the print. I was pleased when a boy who was difficult to reach asked for more paper and different colors.

Watercolor landscapes were created from photographs from my personal photo library.  Students used Q-tips to apply paint in the pointilist style.  It was interesting to see students carefully studying their photo, and then painting what they observed.

Glass fusing continues to be fun, and we were able to do spend several days on this medium.

We also practiced with acrylic painting, watercolors, oil pastels, tissue collages, plastic laminate paper, and Shrinky Dinks’.

VSA Mentor Artist Marty Meade at Mill Valley Middle School

I look forward each year to working with special needs children at Mill Valley Middle School who are diagnosed as ‘Developmentally Delayed’.

I have found that they are capable of doing all of the projects that I take to the other schools.  The first day they paint on canvas. Acrylic paints give them control of a medium, and they end up with beautiful paintings.   I cut out a drawing of a tulip, and brought in a bouquet.   I found that some children just painted inside of the drawing, others, used it to copy from as they looked at the still life.

Shrinky Dinks, heated plastic art, provided an exciting new material for them.   There was some confusion at first, but after their first piece we almost ran out of material.

Mock stained glass made with laminated plastic and colored tissue provided them the concept of transparency and what happens with light.  They all wanted their pieces hung in the window.  They are still hanging, and will probably be up until the end of the school year.

Watercolor landscapes were created from photographs that I brought from my personal photo library.  I made enough copies so that the students could keep the photograph.  It was interesting to see how well they studied the photo, and painted what they saw.

Glass fusing continous to be fun.  Most of the children had done this, so they were eager to begin.   I was a little tense doing this, as a member from MCOE was in the classroom doing an observation.  The smile on his face as he watched all of the children engaged soon settled my nerves.  In this project they are picking up cut glass with their tweezers and gluing  them onto a base of glass.  (I take them to my studio to fire them andreturn them the following week).

We made some beautiful books from the marbeled paper, and one of the aides patiently wrote on the board the words that the students wanted spelled. This project is interesting for the child that is more interested in the paint in the water then the actual painting. I brought in finished sheets of marbeled paper that were able to use in their books. This gave them a chance on how to see their own projects could be used.

I look forward to another year with this group. It is delightful to see them all eager to see me, asking “What are we going to do today, Marty?”


VSA Mentor Artist: Marty Meade – Braun School

Marty Meade wearing her fused glass jewelry

Ten Weeks with students at Braun Day Treatment, Sunny Hills Services –

October to December 2012

Braun Day Treatment provides therapeutic day treatment for youth ages 5-18 who struggle with severe mental health disorders which interfere with their educational progress.  This year my assignment at Braun School was more important than ever, as the cutbacks made through out California was especially hard on this small school for special needs students.

At the end of the school year a panic went up as they realized that they would have to  completely eliminate art, including expressive arts.   In their case, they do not have the parent body to raise funds to fill in this gap.  It was a relief to know that Youth in Arts was here to provide at 20 weeks of this extremely important part of their curriculum.

My projects once again met their needs.  Working with various materials to express feelings, learn about perfection issues, taking a chance to do some different things.    I particularly like the marbling on paper where they work wet, do not have control of the outcome and are amazed at the results.   Sugar skulls are always fun, as the discover the value of food art.

The challenge for me this year are the children that I have had for almost four years, as I am aware that I have to come up with something new.   Middle School attitudes are challenging in any case, but with these students, it is even more so…. I have to keep reminding myself that when a kid is acting out, it’s when they are hurting the most…often difficult when they have pushed every button of patience that I can come up with.

In the midst of this assignment my younger brother was dying of cancer.  I made several trips to Ensenada to be with him, but managed to be back in time for the classes.  It stunned me at the lack of empathy that many of the kids had when I shared with them that my brother had died, The following week I was given a beautiful card with their sentiments, that touched me deeply, giving me renewed strength to keep on working with these special needs children.

Thank you Youth in Arts for the support to these children.



VSA at Braun and Grant Grover

VSA Mentor Artist Marty Meade writes about her experience this year at Grant Grover Elementary School and Braun High School. Grant Grover Elementary School and Braun High School are part of the Sunny Hills Services whose  mission is to engage vulnerable children and youth, enrich their connection with family and community and empower them to lead healthy, rewarding lives.

Youth in Arts has provided me the opportunity to create a venue in which these children can play, express deep feelings and take a risk.  I have been privileged to work with this population for over 20 years, and I still love it.

The School is broken down into three programs, allowing me to work with small groups of 12 students one day per week. Inappropriate social behavior is the constant issue, so ‘please and thank you’ is foremost in my presence. Plowing through outbursts of anger, the sneering attitudes, and their self-hatred is my mission.

In spite of these issues, we have worked with glass to make fused necklaces and small plates. I have given them “real” tools and clear boundaries. Besides glass art, we also had fun making Panoramic Easter eggs (sugar art), block printing, marbling on card stock, watercolor and acrylic painting, and sculptures using balsa wood and hot glue guns.

Thank goodness I’m extremely organized and start packing my crates months beforehand!

The photos here are from a day in which we had a pile of balsa wood scraps and the beautiful panoramic eggs made from prepared sugar shells. The child working on a mosaic picture is one who went inward and could not engage with the others.  (I have ready materials for times like this)

Another great year, thanks to the support from Youth in Arts.

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