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Meet David Crain: An aspiring animator at Marwen

Updated: Nov 27, 2018

“Marwen is not a place where people are going to judge you for who you are. You can be open about it, and you’re going to fit right in. There’s nothing wrong or different about you. You’re a regular person like us. We all have the desire and love for art. We can all improve on that together. I’ll probably be teaching here one day. I could say ‘I was in your seat, in your place. I know what you’re going through.’”

For 14-year-old David Crain, art means opportunities. And opportunities are exactly what David has gained from his time at Marwen.

David has been making art since he was a kindergartner at Telpochcalli Elementary School, a small school in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood that aims to integrate Mexican arts and culture in academia.

From a very young age, David learned how to draw his imagination on paper. David’s mother, Gabriela Nuñez, said she’s watched David create worlds of his own at home.

“He’ll create worlds for his dinosaurs, [and] he’ll create lands for them. He creates this scene on paper, and the cut-outs are moving around the land he created,” Gabriela said.

At home, David made cut-outs of characters that move on lands that he paints.

But Gabriela feared David’s art would come to an end once he enrolled at his local high school, Little Village Lawndale, because she felt that their art program was limited.

For years, Chicago Public Schools have been battling budget cuts to bounce back from a $1.1 billion deficit. Across the country, art programs have been deemed less worthy during funding considerations. And while the Trump Administration planned to slash the federal budget in 2017 for cultural programs — including the National Endowment for the Arts which provides funding for Marwen — the NEA budget was recovered this year with an increase of $153 million dollars.

“When David went to high school, we realized he had no art...this was going to be his first year of having no art and we were really worried about that, because we know that he feels confident and capable...and we wanted him to continue feeling that way,” Gabriela said.

That’s when Gabriela and David were advised by William Estrada, a teaching artist at Marwen and David’s art teacher since kindergarten, to join Marwen.

Though David has only been taking after-school courses at Marwen since spring of 2018, he’s learned a lot about what Marwen is all about. He recalled how nervous he was on his first day.

“I thought it was kind of like a school, and I wouldn’t meet the art standards. Like if I didn’t do good, I wouldn’t get accepted,” David said. “But it was nothing like that. Just do what you like to do, have fun, and we’ll support you on that. Everything you do is amazing, your ideas are awesome, and the people around you are good and really supportive.”

Gabriela also recalled her first impressions of Marwen.

“I loved the fact that it was very welcoming. It was accessible to all families that were here [at orientation]. I appreciated that they made it a point to say that Marwen is a safe space for everyone, whether [it’s] your gender orientation [or] your status,” Gabriela said. “It just validates [Marwen’s] commitment to the community and their commitment to the people of our city.”

Gabriela said diversity was an important factor for her choosing Marwen.

“It was nice to see that the people here spoke Spanish for those families — whose parents was probably their first time in this type of environment — that they felt they had somebody to communicate with.”

David learns ceramics in one of his favorite classes, “Exploring Marwen: Drawing, Animation & Ceramics,” taught by teaching artist and Marwen staff Kate Adams.

From watching his favorite cartoons and movies to creating cut-outs at home, David said he always made sure to turn what inspired him into art.

“I was watching this cartoon called Amazing World of Gumball, and I used to see all these things and I thought it would be cool if I just created my own world,” David said.

“I had a vampire doctor who would suck the disease out of them, a donut cop — because cops like eating donuts — I had these animals in human forms playing sports...they all represented people in their own way.”

David’s love for animation meant he’d take courses that could help develop his creativity a step further. These courses included “Animate your World!” taught by teaching artist Chelsea Welch and “Exploring Marwen: Drawing, Animation & Ceramics” taught by teaching artist and Marwen staff Kate Adams and Andra Helton.

“[Before] I was just having [the characters] move side to side. Here at Marwen, the teachers taught me about how the body movement will work to make it look like real life figures, so now I have an animation that shows how my characters move like an actual person. It kind of brings it more to life.”

Kate said that although David was a new student at Marwen, he exhibited talent and motivation throughout the course.

“David is incredibly kind and fun.He’s just warm and generous with everyone, but he also added energy to the class. In some ways he is exactly what a teaching artist at Marwen loves to have in their class: someone who is not just excited about his own work but excited about other student’s work,” Kate said. “He made stick figures that would battle in a scene, and they were very elegant movements…it was almost as if [William Estrada] was preparing David to be a Marwen student.”

Amongst the many art techniques David has learned throughout the years, what he’s learned the most is the value of art.

“[Art] shows us that even at a young age, we still have a voice and we can speak out to problems. Even if people won’t listen to us, they will still see our art, and they will notice that there is a problem happening and to fix it,” David said.

Gabriela said she noticed how art has challenged David’s worldview.

“When they start analyzing images and he’s like ‘oh look at the background on that and the foreground on this’ I know that’s all the art lingo...and it’s like wow, the vocabulary and those critical thinking skills just by analyzing an image,” Gabriela said. “Those [skills] apply to everyday life experiences, allowing them to see things differently.”

David said he’s proud to have his family’s support, especially since art education remains very stigmatized amongst many parents.

“They know art is a big part of my life and I should improve on this. Art has been with me these 14 years. And going on, it’ll still be there,” David said.

Gabriela said she’s confident she’s made the right decision to have David continue his art education at Marwen.

“As a parent, I think one of the things you look for is — you try to see if your child is happy. He’s always eager and ready to come to class, so of course that’s a great sign,” Gabriela said. “He thinks he’s being challenged, that’s he’s being provided various opportunities to try new things, he’s meeting new students from different parts of the city…and I love the fact that I see a lot of women artists [teaching at Marwen].”

Amongst all things, Gabriela said she’s learned to trust “the process.”

“I’ve learned that he has patience, that he has perseverance, that he will take his time creating things. Sometimes I feel like I always have to rush, and when I see that — just the pleasure of creating something just to make you happy — I’ve learned to just trust what he’s doing,” Gabriela said. “Maybe I don’t have to understand his process, just let him create what he wants to create and then at the end, if I still have questions, I know that he will be able to answer those for me.”

David plans to take more courses at Marwen in hopes of one day becoming a Pixar or Disney animator.

For this year's Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, David was inspired by Disney Pixar’s animated film “Coco," so he designed and painted his outfit — after Coco character Miguel — and his mother Gaby’s outfit.

“Art will help me with that. It could create a career for me, so I will be able to support my family and myself,” David said.

Interested in helping create more opportunities for young artists like David? When you contribute to Marwen, you provide support to Chicago's creative youth through free visual arts courses and college and career development programs. Give a gift.

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