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Sarita Garica shares how young people are leading today.

In Summer 2020, teaching artist Sarita Garcia (she/her) collaborated with fellow artist Janet Lopez (she/her), young artist Ash Vásquez (they/them/his), and staff Rachelle Hill (she/her) on one of Marwen’s first-ever virtual arts courses. Titled “Roots & Sprouts: Gardens and Textiles that Connect Us,” the course was an experimental lab for artistic growth, environmental justice, and food justice, where young people combined the powerful art of gardening with art making.

Sarita Garcia, Marwen teaching artist
Sarita Garcia, Marwen teaching artist

“Teaching virtually -- I’ve never done that before! It was a lot of trying to figure out how to make connections with young people when we can’t see each other in person. This summer at Marwen was way different.”

“It was four of us truly collaborating in preparing this class, “Roots + Sprouts,” a course embedded in gardening, food sovereignty, eco-justice, food deserts, and labor. This was a new experience for me, for the young artists, and it worked out really well. I had always wanted to collaborate with other professionals and artists. In teaching, you have to create the curriculum yourself. It’s an act of solitude mostly. The extra help, ideas, opinions, and different perspectives of the cohort really helped in creating something special. We taught each other.”

“The way the youth led and were in conversation from the start about the programming -- Marwen hasn’t done that before. It’s usually one teaching artist, one studio facilitator, and a studio filled with young people. Now it’s a cohort of four artists. Everyone collaborated and created alongside each other. Four different people with a variety of expertises and passions creating one class together. Bookbinding, eco justice, sculpting, dyeing. It worked out really beautifully.”

Art kits, seedlings
Art kits and seedlings delivered to each student

“One of the biggest surprises that really connected the students to each other and to us as teachers was that we lived in such close proximity to one another. We discovered this when we dropped off art kits and garden boxes. We all live in Little Village, McKinley Park, and Back of the Yards, and we talked about things that are directly impacting our communities like air quality, the asphalt plant, and food deserts. Artwork became a catalyst to talk about these hard topics. How soil in some Chicago neighborhoods is toxic, so raised planters became a thing. How in Mexico crops are exhausted because of the US’s demand for avocados -- the food we eat affects everyone.”

"Artwork became a catalyst to talk about these hard topics."

“We started off class with planting seedlings and learning the process. We made a botany book using indigo ink to dye the cover. Students were so into it, they chose to dye their old clothes, too. One girl dyed a whole wardrobe and got her sister involved. Young people were teaching their parents and siblings how to bind books. They felt so empowered to pass on skills they were learning.”

“Throughout the 8-week class, the young people took over! They launched their own creative space -- an online chat on Discord -- to continue conversations outside of class time. They shared photos of their work, sprouts, birds that flew into their little gardens, and other art they were making. I’m pretty sure they’re still talking to each other!”

“Being able to share power and decision making with young people is a remarkable experience. As a teaching artist, I’ve found resilience and passion for my work through my experiences with young people. To be able to continue teaching through a pandemic and support the next generation of creatives is really special and rare. Marwen didn’t stop, didn’t hunker down. They continued their work while deepening their practice. I really admire that, and I’m so happy for the students who can be part of this.”

“Being able to share power and decision making with young people is a remarkable experience."

Marwen is committed to investing in the power and possibility of young people. Your support fuels our mission to provide no-cost‭, ‬visual arts education‭, ‬college planning‭, ‬and career development programs to Chicago youth from divested communities. Make a gift today at

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