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Mark McQuilling
Mark McQuilling, art teacher, Northeast High, at Rocket Cat Cafe last month

After I wrote an post on the need for art education and how the school district was cutting the Mural Arts Program contract with the schools, Mark McQuilling who teaches art at Northeast High wrote and introduced himself. McQuilling, who is a full time art teacher with past experience with the MAP was very sad to hear about the cuts to the programs. Then, he said, check out his classroom art blog. No kidding.

McQuilling’s classroom art blog, Artillery, is great — here’s a high school teacher using some of the best of the internet tools to connect his students to their teacher, their assignments, and to the greater world outside. McQuilling, who has local artists come in to the classroom to introduce students to various aspects of contemporary art, uses the blog as a bulletin board and for links to other websites. Ambitious, friendly and useful, –and loaded with pictures Artillery is a perfect tool for a teacher of teens who would not be shy about commenting. This is McQuilling’s second year at Northeast and his first year using the blog.

McQuilling and his class worked with artist Ben Volta recently on an Art Futures project. (Art Futures is a Philadelphia Museum of Art education project). The idea the students and Volta worked on was inspired by JMW Turner’s Burning of the House of Parliament, a painting owned by the PMA. (see Artillery post and see Rob Matthews’ post on the project. The students were in McQuilling’s 7th period Art and Landscape class and the collaboration resulted in a large piece and several small works that have had a great run — they’ve been exhibited at the PMA (in the education corridor), at a coffee house (One Shot Coffee in Northern Liberties) and at UArts Gallery 817. According to the artillery blog the big piece may move permanently to the school district’s main building, dubbed 440, at 440 N. Broad st.


McQuilling, showing me a sample of his woodblock prints, a series he wants to put around town as free art.
McQuilling, showing me a sample of his woodblock prints, a series he wants to put around town as free art.

I met McQuilling at Rocket Cat Cafe last month to learn more about him and his teaching program.

Roberta: What do you teach?

Mark: I teach art 1 and art 2

Is the high school a magnet for anything?

It’s a magnet program for aerospace and engineering.

There’s an airport nearby, right? (Northeast airport)

Yes. (he tells me how some of the kids wear uniforms…and I say like ROTC? and he can’t think of the name of the group but not ROTC. It’s kids in the aerospace and engineering program.

me: Civil Air Patrol

McQuilling told me he worked for city’s Mural Arts Program during the summer and was hoping to do so again. His MAP connection began before he was a teacher when he worked for MAP’s Big Picture Program.

His high school was Upper Darby which he says is “a mirror image” of Northeast High. Both schools have around 4,000 students and it’s very multi-ethnic.

He went to Tyler, graduating in 2006 and did his student teaching in 2005. He was site-selected which means a school picks you.

His high school teacher, Diane Hricko (who retired from Upper Darby and now teaches at UArts), was very influential. She taught printmaking, and McQuilling was a printmaker at Tyler, doing lithography, working with John Dowell. He had an internship at Space 1026. He found out about Space 1026 through skateboarding, punk rock, that whole scene. At Space 1026 he worked with Jesse Goldstein.

Studio Practice
In his own studio practice, McQuilling recently made some woodcuts — portraits of friends — which he printed and hopes to take to Kinkos to enlarge them so he can hang them up around town as free art. He’s involved in the Circle of Hope church in Fishtown and his students participated in Art Shop, an arts fair the church puts on. This is the second year he and the students had a table at Art Shop.

I asked him about the church and he said he’d been to various churches and that this one was “different than others…It felt like Tyler. I could fit in there.”

He’s very positive about the students and hopeful that by empowering them with tools to get connected he’s grooming future art stars.

Budget and support
I asked about the support for art in his school and he said the administration at Northeast is hands-off, a good thing for him. He finds the school district to be very supportive of arts teachers. I asked him about his budget. He gets $1,500 a year for supplies. That’s half of what the budget was when he first arrived. He also gets $500 for extra expenses. “I can make do but some teachers don’t have any (budgets)” he said.

I asked him what message he’d send to Michael Nutter and the school administration. He said, “More money is always good…and continue the professional development programs… and expand the partnerships with Fabric Workshop and Museum and Philadelphia Museum of Art… and expand the partnerships to include Space 1026 and InLiquid.

PS For more of my and Libby’s impassioned posts about art in schools just put the search terms “school district” in the search field at the top of the blog and you’ll have enough reading to last you for a day or two. For more on Mark, see his other blog.