Amidon-Bowen Celebrates Black History Month Through Special Art Project

It is our immense pleasure to introduce you to an incredible arts educator, Para Perry, and parent extraordinaire, Willem Dicke!   Ms. Perry is the music teacher at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest Washington, D.C. and Mr. Dicke is a parent volunteer.  The dynamic duo has collaborated on several projects to help the arts come alive for students and the entire school community.  In celebration of Black History Month, they have recently teamed up again to create an incredible photography exhibit at their school.  We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask them a few questions about their inspiration for the project, remarkable collaboration and the amazing ways in which they are working together to engage students in the arts.  Keep reading to learn more about their important and inspiring project! 

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Describe your project.

Willem Dicke:  “Taking Back the Island” is an exhibit at the school of photographs taken by students in Ms. Perry’s class alongside those of an inexplicably forgotten African-American photographer Joseph Owen Curtis, who, after having been lent a camera as a boy, subsequently used his own camera to celebrate and document the people and places of his Southwest Washington neighborhood (which has a history of being referred to as “The Island”) during roughly the first half of the 20th century. It is part of an ongoing project by Ms. Perry and me to teach students about technology that relates to photography as well as video and music production 

The project has two intertwining purposes: the first of these is to showcase the result of the work of the students who made up part of our photography group CamShake, in which we attempted to teach the students not just the technical fundamentals of photography but to demonstrate how photography as an art is a powerful means of self-expression, a way of commenting on and documenting the world around them. It is the camera’s power as an instrument of documentation that ties it to the project’s second purpose: the showcasing of Joseph Owen Curtis during Black History Month. 

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Joseph Owen Curtis was a lifetime resident of Southwest D.C. who chronicled the area during the first half of the 20thCentury.  I stumbled upon Curtis’ work last month when I saw large copies of a number of his photos hanging in the basement of the church across the street from the school. As someone who has, for five years, been photographically documenting my Southwest community where I’ve lived for ten of my nearly thirty years in DC, I was stunned by them not only because I was aware that early/mid 20thCentury photos of the area, which was completely razed during the mid-1950s as part of the city’s “Urban Renewal” project, are rare, but even more rare was what the images depicted: a vibrant
social, cultural and architectural history of a largely African-American middle class that existed at the time. With its physical structures razed and its inhabitants dispersed, Curtis’ photos are a testament to a history that has been largely forgotten, and stand as a powerful refutation to the dominant historical narrative of the area as a “slum” or “shantytown” still peddled by the city’s newspapers, its own promotional materials, and even among those who argue for the historic preservation of parts of the quadrant. While there is universal condemnation of urban renewal as both a moral and practical failure, the subtext is that the “blighted” old Southwest was not really worth saving anyway. 

Beyond the technical and artistic aspects of photography, it is therefore the intent to show the students, many of whom come from families with roots in Southwest DC that stretch back for generations, that their community has a proud and rich history that has essentially been forgotten. By going out and photographing the exact sites that Mr. Curtis did they are reclaiming that history on behalf of their community and empowering themselves by becoming-- as our 3rdgrade teacher and DC Teacher of the Year Ms. Harper would describe them—change agents. If they are to be exhorted to “not let your zip code be your destiny,” as I heard when I attended the 5thgrade commencement last year, then they also deserve to know that their zip code was, for decades, a destiny itself, and a desirable one at that. As a Southwest resident for ten years and as the father of a daughter who will be from Southwest DC, I too have a stake in the accurate historic portrayal of our community. 

Curtis had the extraordinary foresight to write very specific notes at the bottom of his photos as to who was in them and, more importantly, where they were taken, which allowed Ms. Perry and me to take the students to the exact locations. The students did not just recreate the shots but did a terrific job of reinterpreting them according to their own instincts and visions. 


What was the inspiration for the project?

Willem Dicke:  The project initially grew out of Ms. Perry’s and my desire to harness the ability and enthusiasm for photography shown by Amidon-Bowen students at the holiday program Ms. Perry organized last December. I was taking pictures of the students’ performances with my professional camera when one of the students asked if he could borrow the camera. It was the most expensive camera I own with a heavy lens attached to it, but I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and see what the kids could come up with. I gave some of them some of them about a minute’s worth of instruction on operating the camera, and before I knew it I was surrounded by kids wanting to take pictures. Before long there were two professional cameras, a GoPro and and iPhoneX circulating among the students. When I transferred the photos onto my laptop when I got home I was stunned by the quality of some of the photos, to the point where I wasn’t sure if it had been me or a student who had taken some of them. 

Two weeks later, I stumbled upon a collection of Joseph Curtis’ photographs in the basement of the church located across the street from the school. Since our time working together to produce the school video, Ms. Perry and I have discussed offering a music technology class to the students once a week that would encompass music and video production along with photography. The Curtis photos with their analog GPS data gave us both a framework and a syllabus to help us fulfill the photography part of this goal. 

No small amount of thought was given to the question as to whether an elementary school was the proper place for a project to resuscitate an endangered photographer, but ultimately the words of one of the 5thgraders describing how his great aunt still remembered the old Southwest and that she hoped the community she knew would be remembered, along with the message of our DC Teacher of the Year, Ms. Kelly Harper, encouraging her students to be change agents held sway. Because who better than a group of fifth graders and their teacher to “take back the island” by taking back Southwest’s historical narrative and in so doing righting a historical wrong visited upon their own community? Ms. Perry and I have discussed the possibility of starting a Facebook page to house not just the public domain photos of Joseph Curtis, but to have the relatives of the students who are longtime Southwest residents send their photos into the school to Ms. Perry’s classroom, where I would show the students how to scan photos and subsequently preserve them for posterity. 


What do you want students to learn from this project?

Para Perry:  Students will know that the past is important but the present is even more important because they are creating it.  This will give students a better awareness of how things were and how quickly things can change. Students will develop an appreciation for their community both past and present.

Willem Dicke:  First and foremost, this project aims to teach students about photography. As an artistic means of expression or as was the case with Curtis, a tool for documenting his community. With the quality of cell phones cameras starting to challenge the quality of cameras aimed at professionals, learning just a few basic things about photography will help them take better pictures. And because those phones are also platforms through which they can reach wide audiences, how they represent themselves and their friends is important, not just because they’ll obtain more followers on Instagram but also because social media is increasingly being scrutinized by schools and businesses to assess applicants. 

Hopefully, the Curtis exhibit will show that they are part of a historical continuum, and that 50 years from now the spots they captured with their photos will seem as distant as the scenes in the Curtis photos now seem to them. 


Describe your parent/teacher collaboration on this project.

Willem Dicke:  Ms. Perry and I have been working together for over a year and half on projects that have included a school video, an Aretha Franklin tribute video, and a tribute to our DC Teacher of the Year, Ms. Kelly Harper. Ms. Perry herself has been an enormous inspiration to me. She’s not just an excellent music teacher, she also teaches life, love, respect for self and others, and above all “A-game”—or as she describes it in the lyrics to the school song that she wrote “You Gave Me Your Best/Never Settle for Less.” When she came to me with the idea of the school video—which would require an almost unheard of five-week schedule, the audio and video recording of her choir, countless hours of editing and then photographing every class in the school, since we both agreed that whatever we did together would benefit the ENTIRE school—she did not approach me with a privilege argument. She appealed to my sense of justice and fairness. She said, “Will, these kids deserve to have a school video just like their peers in more affluent zip codes.” And before she had uttered her second sentence I had my sword drawn, ready to charge at her command against the forces of tyranny and oppression! And, so, I agreed to do something on a scale and within a time period that all my previous experience as a musician, music /video producer and photographer said was impossible, but we got it done! It takes a hustler to know one, and Ms. Perry has challenged me in a way that I never have been because as a hustler, an A-gamer, she is like the musician in a band who is better than I am and as a result I have had to up my own game to stay even remotely close to her. In trying to describe her, I have been able to develop a vocabulary and a vision with which I aim to raise my daughter and a standard that I feel I have to meet. Without a hint of exaggeration, I can emphatically say that as a result, I have become a better husband and father and a more knowledgeable person in general. She is the backbone of the school and despite all of the time I have dedicated to Amidon-Bowen, I feel that this photography project and all the projects that come after I will be doing with a credit line the school has extended me. She and her students have taught me so much more than I have them. 

Para Perry:  Mr. Dicke has been a blessing to our school family and me. There have been so many things I have wanted to do with technology but needed two more hands, he has been four more hands.  He is one of the most creative people I have ever met. He’s full of ideas! I am blessed to have him as a collaborating parent partner. I call him my partner in crime; it’s all about the kids and families we serve.  He loves our students, our school and the SW community.  He has inspired me to do even more for our students and the SW community.


How does arts education impact the Amidon-Bowen school community? 

Para Perry:  The arts bring us together academically as well as socially as a school family. All of our students are performers in every way you can think of from Pre-Kindergarten through 5thgrade. I always say that the arts make both sides of the brain work, therefore we have brilliant students at Amidon-Bowen.

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How has arts education impacted each of you?

Para Perry:  When I was a young child in junior high school I joined the school chorus, it was at that time I realized that I wanted to be a choral music teacher. Through music I have had many experiences. I have performed in the presence of three U.S. Presidents and traveled abroad. I want my kids to know that the arts can give them opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. Music is my life at home, work and church.

Willem Dicke:  I never had any formal arts training, but I wish I had had an arts teacher like Ms. Perry for all the reasons I mentioned, but also because it would have made learning the guitar, piano and a few other instruments I play a lot easier. Learning the basics of music theory is now more important than ever, since so many artists are now their own producers and the key to being able to use, say, pitch correction software demands that type of knowledge


Everyday Artist Spotlight: Leslie Cannata Nance


We are thrilled to introduce you to music educator extraordinaire, Leslie Cannata Nance! She is a multi-talented teacher and artist who has a genuine commitment to her students’ growth and development as musicians. Leslie has a deep, profound love for the arts and it’s evident in her work and performances. Check out her interview to learn more about the passion that drives her work as an educator and how arts education has impacted her life.


Why is your art important to you?

Seeing students be successful when they have otherwise not gotten the opportunity academically is my greatest achievement. Sharing my passion of music with others of all ages is not a “job,” but a joy. I absolutely love the subject I teach! I practice what I preach! My students know that I love what I do, and they know they have the opportunity to be successful like me because I share with them! I create relationships with every single student with whom I come in contact. 


What do you want your art to say?

Music is my life. I live and breathe music and performing – in any capacity. When I graduated from high school, I was faced with the decision of a) performing and making lots of money on Broadway or b) teaching the youth of America the importance of the performing arts. Obviously, I chose the latter. I have not regretted my decision to become a music educator one time! My students, ages 5 to 95, ALL know that I have a vested interested in them and want the best for them. I have worked with diverse school populations - at-risk students, high populations of impoverished families, special education – that require my constant attention to detail and a never-ending classroom based on relationship building.


What project are you working on now?

I am currently making the move from elementary music to secondary music - instrumental or vocal. I'm not quite sure what's in store for me in the near future, but I'm confident I will be the best!


Who is your favorite artist?

Oh, my goodness! There are too many to name and all for different reasons! To narrow it down to my top picks, though: 1. I absolutely love Bach and his attention to the musical elements in his compositions. 2. I'm a HUGE fan of The Who because of the lyrics and the drive in their sound. 3. Have any of you ever just spent time listening to The Red Hot Chili Peppers? I could go on FOR HOURS! 4. We would need to have drinks and brunch for 9 days about The Beatles.


How has arts education impacted your life?

How has it not? I live and breathe performance education. These children are our future, and I'm making that happen because of the interest my educators showed in me.




Leslie Cannata Nance has been performing since she was a small child. With dedication and a lot of hard work, Leslie was given full scholarships to several universities to study music education. Leslie truly lives out her dream job every single day teaching children the love of music and performance. Leslie was hired before her college graduation in Pasadena Independent School District at Richey Elementary School as the Music Coordinator and Choral Director. Here, Leslie was awarded First Year Teacher of the Year. After a move to north Houston in 2009, she became the Music Coordinator and Choral Director at McFee Elementary School in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. At McFee, Leslie revolutionized the music department, as she was the third music teacher hired when the school had been opened for only two years. In May of 2018, Leslie accepted a position as music coordinator at Willbern Elementary School in CFISD.  In her first 3 months at this campus, she has implemented grade level performances and a choir, both of which were absent in years previous. Leslie gives every student in her classroom the opportunity to perform, as she feels this is one of the most important aspects of elementary music education. When Leslie is not teaching public school, she spends her time teaching private voice, piano, strings, and drama.

Leslie welcomes your questions and comments and has many resources she wants to share with you for free (including original musicals)! She can be contacted by email at 

Punk Rock Changed My Life

by Josh Staub 

“Punk rock changed our lives.” Indeed. 

This quote from the Minutemen song History Lesson II, off their seminal double-record, Double Nickel on the Dime, could even be more poignant perhaps if D. Boon said, “punk rock saved our lives.” 

Growing up in Hanover, PA--in an area of the country known as Pennsyltucky for its excessive redneck population, where superstitious conservatism, incest, and drug abuse run rampant--it was clear we were all fucked. In the 70s and 80s, we watches as most of the major industries relocated to foreign countries, where slave labor could be utilized to make rich people richer and the folks of Hanover much poorer. Since then, many of the factories and warehouses around town have been left abandoned or converted into section-eight housing. Then there is the pervasive PA Dutch attitude, which can be summed up as Stoicism exaggerated to the point of stupidity and catatonia intermixed with staunch Christianity, zero-tolerance, narrow worldviews culminating in dangerous belief systems, that is, for anyone outside of the narrow consensus reality. Punk rock, for one, provided folks like myself--who find themselves outside this bogus consensus reality--reassurance that all belief systems, including this particular one that has been so harmful to me personally, are, to some extent, BS. Just make an acronym out of it, like Robert Anton Wilson, belief system = BS. So when the rigid social structure failed to indoctrinate and subjugate us rebellious youth and then attempted to paint us as fuck-ups and insane individuals, punk rock, along with art and literature, became a stop-gap. In fact, the punk ethos was able to deflect their attacks, illustrating how insane these people really were and how their BS was really legitimized madness. 

To me, music began and ended with Kurt Cobain. If you’re a fan of Kurt’s music, inevitably you’ve explored at least some of the indie bands he was constantly promoting--bands like the Raincoats, Meat Puppets, Half Japanese, Daniel Johnston, the Wipers, the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, and so on. A modest, genuine dude, Kurt was always more comfortable talking about bands he was digging rather than discussing his own music and its unexpected success. He also introduced me to the novelist, William Burroughs, who he recorded an album with and often said that Naked Lunchis his favorite book. From Burroughs, I was introduced to the Beats, particularly Kerouac and his road journeys, Henry Miller, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Knut Hamsun, and Dostoyevsky. As another casualty of the war on drugs, Kurt reframed and deprogrammed the drug propaganda that was shoved down my throat at school regarding psychedelics. Also, Prophet Cobain brought me to esoteric Buddhism and, eventually, the kabbalah and Sufism, making his band name, Nirvana, quite poignant and ironic.  

Punk rock is about transgression. There is immense power in transgression, especially in regard to the deconstruction of harmful, limited BS. As a punk musician in Philly with Thee Peecock Angels, we hope to adopt the deconstruction and transgressional work started by folks like D. Boon and Kurt Cobain to disrupt and dismantle social and philosophical constructs that impede peace and progression. These gentlemen and women, through their music, have empowered and enlightened me. Without these folks, I would’ve given up back in high school. So, to this I say, punk rock saved my life. 

Purchase music here

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Josh Staub is a punk rock guitarist/vocalist, an author of the Merchant of Unsellable Dreams and Land of Broken Promises trilogies, and a restorative justice facilitator in Philadelphia. His band, Thee Peecock Angels, can be listened to for free on Spotify and bandcamp. They can be reached through their Facebook page as well. TPA has released 8 eps and two full-length albums, Thousands of Dead Hipsters(punk rock homage to MDC) and Gentrify Me, which have all been recorded, engineered, and produced by Terminal City Records in North Philly, located in Josh’s attic apartment. 

Everyday Artist Spotlight: Milton Washington


We are thrilled to introduce you to an extraordinary mind and talent, Milton Washington.  Milton is a New York City-based artist who is self-described as, “A storyteller who writes a bit and has an iPhone with an eye.”  We’d describe him as a magical photographer, brilliant writer and an all-around exceptional creative.  We had the honor of asking him a few questions about his art, what inspires his work and we got the low-down on his new, upcoming project that we know you’re going to want to check out! 

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Read below to learn more about Milton and follow him on social media to stay connected!

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Why is your art important to you?

I feel my ways of expression connect deeply with people in a way that helps them face the truths of life and the truths of themselves. My art is important to me because it’s healing. 



What do you want your art to say? 

The things that most people don’t have the courage to say while inspiring them to speak the truth. It’s ok to flawed. It’s ok to feel less than. It’s ok to not match up. But find your place and your truth. 


What project are you working on now?

A concept one-man show with photography, readings and storytelling rooted in my memoir. Heavy elements are balanced with hilarity of my life and the photographs are a demonstration of my perspective while also being a springboard into conversation.



Who is your favorite artist?

Being adopted from Korea at the age of 8, I started school for the first time in life. New language, new family, new culture. I’ve felt the deficits of illiteracy which weighs on my ability to consume academic aspects of life. All that to say, I’m not the most well-versed in art. But I do love MC Escher and the book by Herman Hess, Sidhartha. 

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How has arts education impacted your life?

I’ve never had formal art education but my experience of isolation in South Korea has instilled a deep-seeded need in me to express. I need it to live. I believe the need to express should be on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. I believe my style and approach to my art is a both a function of who and what I am and my most effective tool to change the world. 


Biography: Born in South Korea, Milton Washington was adopted and brought to the states in 1979 where he learned English and the American culture. Today, he lives in Harlem operating his Strategy, Sales Coaching and Public Speaking agency, Slickyboy Studios. He is months away from completing his memoir entitled Slickyboy. Slickyboy Synopsis: A fatherless black boy was born to a Korean prostitute a decade and-a-half after the Korean War. Left to roam his camptown with a pack of homeless kids, little Milton-ah fights, steals and drinks while his mother works long hours. All until the age of 8, when he’s adopted from the country that never claimed him, by a black military family from Texas, the Washingtons. Slickyboy is about the love and the loss of one mother, and a finding of another, with a lifetime of living in between.

Everyday Artist Spotlight: Lizzie Monsreal

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It is our immense pleasure to introduce you to an amazing, young Chicago-based artist, Lizzie Monsreal.  She is a college student with an absurd amount of talent!  Lizzie is a spectacular visual artist that has experience with a plethora of media including watercolor and charcoal.  Most recently, she has been working with textiles. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her to learn more about what inspires her art, what current projects she is working on and how arts education has left an impression on her life and work.  One thing we’re absolutely sure of is that whatever medium Lizzie uses she is sure to create magic.  

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Why is your art important to you?

Art lets me be able to express my emotions and feelings in the best way through my imagination. Without it, I wouldn't be able to speak in my own voice through art. 


What do you want your art to say? 

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I want my art to be able to express important topics through my artwork, such as feminism, the environment. I also would like to be able to connect my artwork/experiences with my audience. 


What project are you working on now?

 My recent project right now is a sweater that I am knitting using a knitting machine with local yarn in Chicago. It is so far a prototype, but I am working with colors a lot and texture.


Who is your favorite artist?

 That is a hard one! I always find myself loving so many pieces of artwork. I guess one really good one I love would be, The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt. 


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How has arts education impacted your life?

Art education has impacted me in so many different ways as an artist and a person. It has helped me see from different perspectives as an artist and helped me understand all the different medias I can use through my artwork.


To see more art, follow Lizzie Monsreal on Instagram: @lizziemonsrealart



Lizzie Monsreal is a Latina Chicago artist, designer, and writer. She was born in Merida, Yucatan, but raised in Chicago South suburbs. She is currently a student at Columbia College Chicago who majors in Fashion & Costume Design. Other than studying fashion, she is also does freelancing in Fine arts, Illustration, and Writing. Her artwork is focused around personal growth, femininity, feminism, the environment, and anything else she feels needs a voice.