Chicago high school students visit art facilities.

By Marissa Novel

The art of glass blowing dates back to the Roman Empire and ancient Egypt. Today, Salukis and high school students alike are using it to increase opportunities for their futures.

Ten high school students from Chicago toured art and design facilities, and watched a demonstration by graduate and undergraduate glass blowing students on campus Friday and Saturday.

The students were from Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy, a school on the south side of Chicago offering several in-depth, fine and visual art programs to less than 200 students ages 13 to 19.


Jiyong Lee, associate professor and head of the glass program, lead the tour and said he began organizing the trip with Tracy Kirchmann, Little Black Pearl’s art director and SIU alumna, last November.

Lee said SIU and Illinois State University are the only schools in Illinois, out of 20 nationwide, with glass blowing degree programs.

“I think it’s really great to have the students come see the campus,” he said. “We have a large School of Art and Design facility so they can see a lot going on around our school.”

Kirchmann said Little Black Pearl serves at-risk youth, or children from impoverished neighborhoods coping with gun and gang-related violence.

“It’s not a choice for these kids, it’s what they have to do,” she said. “When I was in high school, you could kind of choose to be in a gang. Now you can just get shot on the south side of Chicago [because of] your address.”

Kirchmann said the academy began as a nonprofit, after school program before becoming a public school in 2011. She said the school provides all core subjects as well as specialized programs ranging from music production to woodshop.

Kirchmann said the school has three recording studios and computer labs in its Teen Tech Center, a technology studio sponsored by Best Buy.


“A lot of my students have come from places that didn’t even have computers or libraries,” she said. “Our school is formulated to provide twice as much of those resources as normal, to try to re-enchant them with learning, and the world through the arts.”

The mission seems to resonate with the students, as many of them have aspirations for higher education.

Lateefah Williams, a senior, said she started glass blowing at the academy last year. She said she has applied to a few colleges and is working on finding scholarships.

“This is one of my top choices,” she said. “This is the first college I’ve actually visited and I really like it.”

Some of the visiting students said they were impressed with the facilities SIU had to offer. Kirchmann said the university’s interdisciplinary art programs helped her develop diverse skills she continues to use today.

“I run the glass studio completely by myself at the school,” she said. “I’m the shop tech, I’m the instructor, I also manage the other facilities in the building and I wouldn’t know how to do that if I hadn’t taken metals classes here.”

Kirchmann said students were chosen for the trip based on high academic performance.

Devonta Smith, a senior, said he is interested in rapping, singing and playing piano, and decided to attend Little Black Pearl because of its recording studios.

“It’s a good opportunity because at my old school the teachers seemed like they didn’t care, but these teachers interact way more with the students,” he said.

Smith said he has not made a final decision on which university he will attend in the fall.

“I was thinking about going to Iowa State University, but when I went there it seemed kind of boring,” he said. “But I’d rather come here. It seems like they have everything I want to do.”

Rozzie Cribbs, a junior, said he is interested in graphic design. He said his teachers have been helping him build his portfolio and find freelance work.

“I was thinking about going to the Art Institute of Chicago, or the American Academy of Art but after coming here I might decide to go here,” he said.

Lee and Kirchmann have preliminarily talked about students visiting SIU next year.

Marissa Novel can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.