Western Middle School for the Arts: Empowering a creative community
Historically underperforming schools tend to stay that way. History has a certain gravity. The history of West Louisville is over a hundred years of racial segregation, disinvestment, and redlining. This history’s legacy is higher rates of poverty, higher incidences of police violence, and a sprawling food desert. The predominant story about a school like Western is that the teachers don’t stay, the parents are disengaged, and the students don’t care. But that isn’t the only story.
Western Middle had been declining for decades in nearly every measurable category. In 2010 that changed. Students, teachers, and administrators transitioned from a traditional school to a magnet art school, allowing students to focus on dance, drama, visual arts, band, string orchestra, and vocal music. The school attracted new students after a long decline. Participation in the arts gave the students a voice that permeated other subjects as overall performance increased.
The school to prison pipeline is a well-documented phenomenon in places like West Louisville. Western Middle fits the bill: 60% of the students identify as Black, over 60% receive free lunches. But, the school does not at all feel drab, worn down, like a pipeline. The school vibrates with energy. You see the students raising their hands, reciting monologues, dancing, smiling, singing. The teachers greet you with welcoming smiles. The administration is eager to show off the students and teachers they are so proud of.
No, these students are not being assimilated into expectations of whiteness. They can fully express themselves, to be themselves. Because Western Middle is safe and supporting and empowering.
We thought this beautiful place deserved a beautiful identity to match. The identity has won multiple awards through AIGA, AAF, and Print Magazine. But we are most proud that the students are excited to wear a shirt with those simple, colorful lines that say: I am a part of this family.