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Valerie Xanos with her Guerrilla Arts class of 2014 during a visit to the MCA

Courtesy of the artist

Valerie Xanos Guerrilla Arts teacher


School: Curie Metro High School

Classes: International Baccalaureate Art, Drawing and Painting I; Multi-Media Art (Guerrilla Art Class Elective)

MCA programs: Teacher Institute, Partner School Initiative

Extracurriculars: Y.A.R.N. sponsor, multimedia artist

Why the MCA?

As an artist, contemporary art practice is essential to me. While it is important to reflect upon and learn from art history, I feel it is even more important to understand how contemporary artists think and create. After all, we are the artists of today and the future. I want my students to think and work not just as a student completing an assignment or learning a studio skill. I want them to discover their daily artistic practice that leads to the kind of meaningful creations that define their generation. The MCA helps us do that through its educational pedagogical explorations, through its dynamic art exhibitions, and through its work in helping students understand contemporary art. The kind of support I receive at the MCA is phenomenal and makes all the difference in my classroom explorations. I am grateful to have MCA programs to guide me, challenge me, and nurture my classroom. Lastly, the MCA’s institutional prestige provides my teacher practice with the validation I need to prove our worth to administrators, the community, and students. If the MCA loves us, so does everyone else.

Growing up an artist on the southwest side of Chicago isn't easy. There isn't much exposure to the arts down there. Because of this, Valerie Xanos became an art teacher in the public school system to be an agent of change for young artists. Valerie still lives and teaches on the southwest side, sharing a connection to her students through community. A 20-year veteran of CPS, she earned her BFA and teaching certificate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Glasgow School of Art. Valerie got her start as a 12-year old, taking classes in Continuing Studies at SAIC, and later taught in the Young Artist's Studios Program. As an artist, she works in the media of paint, collage, and photography. Her work informs her practice as a teacher, just as the work her students do informs her artwork. Interested in the Guerrilla Art movement, she uses this to influence her curriculum. She considers it a wonderful genre to affect social change through art in the community. She teaches a Guerrilla Art class at Curie Metro High School; you can see her students' art on the class blog: Guerrilla Art 4. Because writing is an integral part of the curriculum—aesthetically and as part of artistic process—Valerie chronicles her explorations with students on the blog, Teachers After Hours.

For the past two years, Valerie has been the sponsor of Y.A.R.N., Young Artists Revolutionary Network, an after-school yarn-bombing collective for Curie art students. This year they are planning an installation on school grounds with the theme of “Positivity,” hoping to affect a proactive change on the mindsets of school staff and students. In 2014, Valerie was an art delegate on an N.A.E.A. research trip to Finland. There, she learned about the Finnish approach to art education, hoping to influence methodology here in the United States. Additionally, Valerie took part in the MCA's School Partner Program from 2014–16. Last year, her Guerrilla Art class worked with artist Lee Blalock to produce an original film called Wake Up!!, inspired by the David Bowie Is exhibition. The film was screened at the MCA's 21Minus Festival. This year they are working with musician Mikel Patrick Avery to create original work inspired by The Freedom Principle.

Valerie is also a mother of four amazing, willful, creative young adults. They are often an inspiration to Valerie as a teacher.

Recent work

From the series Nighttime Abstractions. The current photographic series is a response to suffering from extreme photosensitivity that does not allow Valerie to be in sunlight. This effectively ceased her outdoor photographic artwork for many years. Her current work, however, is shot in poor lighting conditions or nighttime, purposefully creating challenges of taking photographs without the benefit of sunlight. The work is more about playing with light while working with a lack of light, therefore an autobiographical chronicle of Valerie's struggle with light as well as hunger for it

Courtesy of the artist

Night Abstraction

Courtesy of the artist

Abstract Collage. The current collage series is inspired by Sci-Fi literature and astronomical musings, resulting in abstracted otherworldly images

Courtesy of the artist

From the series Nighttime Abstractions

Courtesy of the artist

Tied Up and Boxed In. Working with bird images, Valerie's recent paintings relate to concepts of restrictions and injustice. Mostly connecting to personal experiences, these paintings are meant to respond emotionally rather than intellectually

Courtesy of the artist

Lesson Plan: Meditative Mandalas