Local teacher involves students in ArtPrize project

West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 29, 2017

 “Threads” depicts art teacher Margaret Squires’ students with their hands open or closed. The project aims to start a discussion about food insecurity.

“Threads” depicts art teacher Margaret Squires’ students with their hands open or closed. The project aims to start a discussion about food insecurity.

Photo provided by Margaret Squires

WEST BLOOMFIELD — A local middle school teacher has taken her work to the national stage, and she has brought her students with her.

Art teacher Margaret Squires gave her students at Abbott Middle School the chance to participate in her art project, “Threads,” which is now on display at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. ArtPrize is an annual international art competition that awards over $500,000 to artists whose work is displayed as part of the festival. Any artist in any medium can enter the competition. The free event attracts over 500,000 visitors.

Squires’ piece is aimed at bringing awareness to the reality of childhood hunger.

“(Food insecurity) is one of my passionate concerns for our social system,” said Squires. “In a country with as much money as we have, how is it that children are hungry? How is that even an issue at all? Not that I don’t want people to become involved in it nationwide, but kids right here are struggling.”

“Threads” features lithograph photos on muslin of Squires’ students’ hands in open and closed positions, suspended from the ceiling with wire. The project’s title represents the precarious position each child is in.

“I wanted to address the problem of child hunger,” said Squires. “It’s a concern of mine. It crosses all religions, ethnicities. ... It’s an issue. I wanted to do a project that was more authentic.”

Each photo represents an average public classroom. In each photo, the students’ hands are either open or shut — open representing food insecurity and closed representing sufficient nutrition. 

“I wanted to get (my students) involved in a professional project,” said Squires. “It was a talking point in class for what it would be like, how the family ended up in that situation, what they can do and what we can do as a nation.”

The photos are accompanied by a QR code, which links to more information about food insecurity in the United States.

The installation is intended to provoke conversation about children living in local communities who don’t have food security. 

“Anytime we can engage kids in extracurricular activities is great,” said Abbott Middle School Principal Amy Hughes. “I’m just thankful Margaret took the time to involve kids and connect it to the things we’re already doing in our school.”

According to Squires, 20 percent of children in the U.S. don’t have adequate daily nutrition.

“A lot of children don’t get enough to eat — it’s not just enough to eat, but it’s also not enough healthy food,” said Squires. “Our country makes it possible for families to be able to afford food filled with preservatives, sugar and fat, but for families to be able to afford good-quality, nutritional, fresh food, it’s just not accessible. Some families have to make the choice between food and rent or medicine.”

Squires said she loved making the project and would like the chance to do a similar project again. 

“Threads” is on display at the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. The art installation is for sale as a whole or in sets of two. 

ArtPrize runs Sept. 20-Oct. 8. For more information, visit www.artprize.org.