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Encouraging Students through Art: Newspring Student Art Auction

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Angela Cheves, Robert Westheimer, Luiza Grandchamp

CELEBRATING Newspring Executive Director Angela Cheves, Newspring founder Robert Westheimer and Newspring Visual Arts Committee chairperson and Kinkaid art teacher Luiza Grandchamp gather to celebrate a successful 2018 Student Art Auction.

Twelve years ago, Robert Westheimer stumbled upon a community in need.

He was exploring the prospect of putting a new church in Spring Branch when he realized the area lacked strong ties between the community and churches. He wondered why and started to research. What he found was a community struggling with poverty – joining a church was the last thing on their minds.

“We started looking at ways to help stabilize the area,” the business consultant says. “We wanted to help people put down roots, join a church. Wanted to give them an opportunity to have a good job or start a small business and not constantly be moving around looking for a better job or better housing.”

Robert needed partners in the community to build trust and bridge relationships. He went to the Spring Branch Independent School District for help. “The principal at the first middle school we talked to showed us the students’ art, and we were blown away,” Robert says. He says they realized that art might be the way to help students in the area see the possibilities of a more stable life and a career. “Most of us would think of art as a fun thing to do, a few of us would look at it as self-expression. But we wanted to find a way to encourage the students’ talents and show them that their art can be a way out of poverty.” 

That’s when the Newspring Visual Arts program was born, offering art classes to SBISD students and giving them opportunities to develop their artistic skills, increase self-esteem and learn to see their artwork as a catalyst to a future career.

“Many of these students’ career track is to follow their parents’ lead, which is to cut grass and clean houses. We are diverting their life path away from that and recognizing their artistic talent.” Career paths can include graphic design, professional photography, architecture. 

Giant butterfly

SPREADING WINGS Giant butterflies featuring artwork created by middle and high school students through the Newspring Visual Art Program can be spotted all over Houston. Proceeds from butterfly sales support college scholarships for the students.

To help them continue their education, Newspring sells giant butterflies featuring the kids’ artwork. They are scattered around Houston and sell for $10,000 each. Smaller, desktop butterflies are available as well for $250. Proceeds from the butterflies support the nonprofit as well as college scholarships for students.

“There’s a young lady who went to Northbrook High School,” Robert says. “She is very talented in art, had great grades. We’re [helping send] her to Bryn Mawr in PA [with a scholarship]. She’s now finishing her freshman year thanks to our ability to help her financially and with applications.” Newspring also currently supports architecture students at UT and A&M, and the very first scholarship recipient is an art teacher at Northbrook Middle School.

This Friday, May 10, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., Newspring will hold its annual Student Art Auction at the A.D. Players George Theatre, 5420 Westheimer. Students from Spring Branch middle and high schools will be in attendance selling their original paintings and three-dimensional designs. Proceeds from art sales go directly to the students. In 11 years, students have earned over $150,000 from auction sales.

Desktop butterflies

FROM BUTTERFLIES TO SCHOLARSHIPS Newspring sells desktop butterflies featuring Spring Branch students' artwork to support college scholarships for the students.

“The students take their art very seriously,” Robert says. “So when they sell a piece it’s very affirming, not only to them, but to their parents who might be saying, ‘Drop out of school, come help me clean houses.’ It gives them pause to think, ‘Maybe I should stay in school and go for higher education.’”

Newspring is consistently in need of volunteer mentors and community members willing to offer internships to students. “We’re changing these students’ life path,” Robert says. “That takes a lot of affirmation and mentors to say, ‘You can really do this, you can go to college, you can have a career.’”

Editor’s Note: See  more information on the art auction here. Find out about volunteer opportunities here.  

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