Diversity project kicks off in Monroe

Artist plans to take project to 110 schools nationwide
Dec. 11, 2012 @ 04:48 PM

Charlotte-based artist Edwin Gil will tell you that art saved his life. 

When he was 17, he attempted suicide twice. 

He hopes to use art to save other teenagers from attempting to take their own lives through a new project called, "Faces of Diversity." 

The first of 111 art installations was unveiled at Monroe Middle School this week. 

The work, made from "upcycled" glass from a Charlotte building, features thumbprints from the students and handprints from administrators. It is meant to highlight the diversity of the student body and discourage bullying. Soon, the work will feature a QR Code, that when scanned will show students telling their stories about bullying. 

"(It is) a piece of art that will always talk," Gil said. 

Almost all 940 Monroe Middle School students participated in the artwork.

"The most amazing thing was when we were working in the studio...and a boy said 'it's so beautiful,'" Gil said. 

He enjoyed hearing the student's reactions as he installed the glass mosaic in the hall. 

His goal was to touch a lot of hearts, Gil said. 

The installation came about as part of a grant through The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Assistant Professor Adriana Medina and Elkin Lenis, assistant principal of the visual and performing arts learning community at Monroe Middle, applied for the grant. 

They used it to fund Gil's art project and to bring ballroom dancers Luis Rivera and Dilandia Acevedo into the school to teach Latin ballroom dance. 

The goal was to bring English language learners who impact their community–like Gil, Rivera and Acevedo–into a school with a high percentage of English language learners. 

The students have responded well to their exposure to the arts, Lenis said. He saw reluctant students get up and dance with Rivera and Acevedo. 

The art can change the life of a person, Rivera said. Art can make your soul better and help people connect with their soul, he added. 

The art installation will remain at the school and though the dance classes are limited, the students have been practicing after school to remember the steps. 

Gil hopes to make 110 more art installations in schools throughout the country in order to bring attention to school bullying and suicide prevention. 

One of the biggest problems is acceptance, Gil said. 

"We highlight (acceptance)," he added.