“Personally, I feel like art has been my salvation, in a way,” says Frank Juarez. “Where I grew up in Milwaukee, there was a lot of crime and a lot of vandalism and a lot of gangs. So, focusing on my art was my way of avoiding that.
“If you look around you, everything is art,” he adds. “The person who designed that car was an artist; the person that designed your clothes was a professional designer. Even though that’s part of it, I think when we talk about art education, we go well beyond those common observations. It’s about being creative and artistic and solving problems.”
As a gallery director, art educator, artist, author, advocate, and community arts leader living and teaching in Sheboygan, Juarez has spent his career trying to inspire people – especially young people – through art and to bring art to communities that lack it. He frequently organizes local and regional art exhibitions and community art events and facilitates presentations and supports artists through professional development workshops. Juarez is the founder of two projects focused on contemporary art and art education: The Midwest Artist Studios and the 365 Artists 365 Days Project.
In 2011, he opened his first art gallery, the Frank Juarez Gallery in Sheboygan, which relocated to Milwaukee’s Third Ward in 2017. Juarez has presented at local universities, colleges, galleries, and artist groups on the Business of Art.
When Juarez first moved to Sheboygan, there wasn’t much of an art scene. So he helped to create one.
“The art scene has really changed drastically in Sheboygan over the years – even since I’ve been living in Sheboygan starting in 2004,” Juarez tells Madison365. “Back then, you [just] had the [John Michael Kohler] Arts Center.
“As an artist myself, I need to find a community that I can be involved with. So, I searched high and low for art groups in Sheboygan and there was nothing to be found,” he adds. “So, I had the idea coming from Milwaukee and being involved with other art organizations, I decided to start my own art group called the Sheboygan Visual Artists.”
Juarez is the founder and former executive director of the Sheboygan Visual Artists, an active network of visual artists and supporters that enriches the community through the visual arts.
“I started that in 2007 and we started with five artists,” he remembers. “Now, there are over 100 artists from across Wisconsin. I think it really gave the local arts community a boost of creating something on their own.
“Now, there are numerous places in Sheboygan that show local art and its really catapulted this local artist community movement and it’s been that way for over a decade,” he adds. “It’s just amazing the amount of things that are being offered on a weekly basis and the ability to see art and go to art venues.”
Not only has the art community exploded in Sheboygan over the last decade-plus, the Latino population has also.
“There’s a huge population of Latinos in Sheboygan now. The city has become much more diverse,” Juarez says. “We have a large Hmong population and there are more African Americans moving to Sheboygan. It’s definitely become a diverse place and it’s kind of interesting because when I was teaching at the alternative programs, [Sheboygan] North [High]’s perception is way different than it is now. And even South’s. Now it seems like both schools are heavily diverse in terms of ethnicity, race.”
Originally from the south side of Milwaukee, Juarez grew up between 9th and 10th on Washington Ave. by Walker Square Park in an area that was heavily Latino. He attended Bayview High School.
He decided soon after that that the degree he graduated in from Carroll University – graphic communications – was not what he wanted to do with his life.
“One day, I ended up going into the business section of Barnes & Noble and I stumbled upon this book called ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ I was looking for some answers,” Juarez remembers. “After skimming the book I came across two questions that pretty much changed my life: ‘What skills do you have?’ and ‘Where would you like to use those skills?’
Juarez’s response was to work in a classroom.
“From that moment, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher,” he says. “I went back to school to get certified to teach.
“Going into teaching, I wanted to find a way to connect with students but to also give them an outlet where they can be themselves and be self-expressive,” he adds.
He worked as a substitute teacher before landing a job as a teacher at an alternative high school in Sheboygan called Riverview Alternative Program.
Since 2006, Juarez has been teaching at Sheboygan North High School where he is now the art department chair. Juarez has taught beginning, intermediate, and advanced art courses. In addition, oversees the Artist in Residence Program and the NHS ARTifacts Gallery.
“I oversee the art department at North,” Juarez says. “My duties range anywhere from overseeing the art department budget to facilitating meetings with my colleagues to advocating for the art program to being a liaison between us and the administration.
“I feel like part of my job is to keep the curriculum a bit more relevant. We go well beyond just teaching about the old masters like Van Gogh and Picasso,” he continues. “We try to find ways to connect students to modern, real-life artists from our community as well as from throughout Wisconsin. We try to provide as many authentic experiences as we can for our students.”
Juarez is actively involved in local, regional, state, and national arts organization such as the Wisconsin Art Education Association, and the National Art Education Association. He has served as a board member for the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, Arts Wisconsin, and the Cedarburg Cultural Center.
In 2015, he was awarded the 2015 Wisconsin Art Education Association Teacher of the Year. A year later, he was awarded the 2016 National Art Education Association Wisconsin Art Educator of the Year. Juarez has been elected to serve on the National Art Education Foundation Board of Trustees and has been awarded the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation 2018 Teacher Fellows.
“Art is something that everybody can connect with. What’s interesting is that for some students, art is like a stress reliever. For other students, art is the only thing that they come to school for,” Juarez says. “I’ve had students, in the past, who would come just for art. It was their way to escape from their current situation and it’s a place where they can really be themselves.
“Art really gives young people a chance to look around themselves and see what’s around. It’s also about learning skills to be contributors in society – becoming problem solvers and creative thinkers,” he adds. “I believe that no matter what profession students end up going into, being creative does such wonders for job performance. Art is the power of problem-solving, communicating, collaborating.”
Earlier this year, the National Art Education Association honored Juarez with the 2019 National Secondary Art Educator Award. This prestigious award, determined through a peer review of nominations, recognizes the exemplary contributions, service, and achievements of one outstanding NAEA member annually at the national level within their division.
“Our job as art educators is to really get to know our students – what they like, what they don’t like, what they are good at and what they are not good at … and figure out ways to help them cross the threshold,” he says.
“I think with everything happening right now – politically, culturally, societal – I think art education should be at the forefront. I think that the more we teach students about the world of art and how they fit into this equation we call life, the more successful they will be in the long run.”