Throat Culture (005) Chrysalis Alternative School Art Program.



“It’s really fun to make art…it’s easy, creative, imagine-ingly awesome.

I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Art through your eyes!”

–Chrysalis student



Back in the paradise that was Orange County in the ’70’s, when Maxwell Tart was just a ‘space-food-stick’-chomping spoiled brat, playing whiffleball & selling stolen avocados on the side of the highway, there were so many music & art classes in school it would make your head spin.


“Cuzz I don’t think about bad stuff and it makes me focus on my Art.”

–Chrysalis student



(Chrysalis 2013 Retrospective at Taos Ale House)

 Beginning band, Intermediate band, Advanced band, Jazz band, Concert band — & that was just the music choices; there was drawing & painting, sculpture & architecture; there was sewing class & wood-shop & metal-shop… (Hey! where do the children make pipes these days? …on the streets?)

There was every kind of diversion a kid could possibly imagine.



 (Chrysalis 2013 Retrospective at Taos Ale House)

Nowadays art & music budgets are stolen to pay for ever-expanding ‘administrative budgets.’ Kids are spending their time in class slaving away, studying for, or worse yet, taking ‘standardized’ tests so that the superintendent can keep his job. They’ve already entered the factory:


 Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED English & math class.  How can I ever repay my poetry teacher, the ever-so-fashionable Ms. Wordsworth who, sitting on the edge of her desk, in a one-piece, leopard-printed jump-suit, (this was the ’70’s, remember?) chanted, on what seemed like a daily basis:

“For WHOM the bell tolls, the bell tolls for THEE!” 



Above her chalkboard she had lovingly pinned the letters: “P O E T R Y   P O T P O U R R I”  & all of the poetry in my life has, since that hour in class, been perfumed by the nearness of the class-beauty, Susie LaScala, whispering, while almost touching my ear: “If you take the last three letters of POETRY & the first three letters of POTPOURRI  it spells

“T R Y  P O T.”

Ahhhhh…school. Now  where was I?


(Francisco “Kiko” Pacheco, Chrysalis student.)

Oh yes, the 21st century, & now the arts are as absent from our schools
as free chips & salsa is on the tables of Mexican restaurants. 

Maybe all is not lost. I humbly introduce you, dear reader, to Carlos Garcia & Orion Cervio, co-head teachers at the Chrysalis Alternative School. Dedicated souls who believe that the arts are not just for privileged white kids & ex-real-estate agents.


(Chrysalis Co-head teacher, Carlos Garcia)

Throat Culture: When did you start teaching art at Chrysalis?

Carlos Garcia: 9 years ago, when I started working here.

TC: How many students are involved?

CG: As many as 16 & as little as 2, depending on what time of year it is. Most students work independently at their own pace, it’s not something that you can, necessarily, rush. Some students produce at a faster pace depending on how much time & energy they are putting into what they are working on at that time. So it can vary on how long it will take to finish the whole collaborative image.


(Detail from Chrysalis Retrospective at Taos Ale House, 2013)

TC: Do you give the students some artistic guidance?

CG: I definitely do. A lot of them have little knowledge in regards to the arts or even drafting, so it is a step-by-step process. Once they have figured out how the system works they become a lot more efficient. That’s what makes the process somewhat complicated for me because we have new students every year. The whole school is set up somewhat like a Waldorf -hybrid in that there are some students that are here for 6 or 7 years with the same educator, & these students are integrated with students who are new to the school. Some of the students who have been around longer are able to tutor those who are just coming into the program. I work with the students on drafting skills & math-based measurements used in the drawings.  It is kind of surprising to me that a lot of the students can’t read a ruler stick.

“It helps show how I feel.”

-Chrysalis student


(Image from Chrysalis Retrospective at Taos Ale House, 2013)

CG: Once the drawing is complete I teach color-theory, work with complimentary colors & teach them what is a contrasting color to another color; for example, red & green are complimentary colors, purple & yellow, blue & orange, that type of thing.

What I like about making art is that when you’re drawing a picture, you can change it & put your own details in it.”

–Chrysalis student


(David Branchal, Chrysalis student, with self-portrait)


(Desirae Gonzales, Chrysalis student, with self-portrait)

TC: For those that don’t know, who are the students at Chrysalis?

CG: There are lots of paths for kids to end up here at Chrysalis. All of them have had little or no success in the regular school setting. They just have strong personalities for the most part,  & the traditional public school didn’t seem very successful with them & their realm in being able to acquire knowledge. This is an intimate setting which is funded through the public schools, where they have the ability to find their own niche. It gives us, with the small classroom size, a way of individualizing work for each student at the school.


(Jessica Ortega, Chrysalis student, with self-portrait)

TC: It’s a group decision, parents, teachers, the student, to come here?

CG: It has to do with the students wanting to attend our school, recommendations from social-workers at the middle-school & high-school. We actually have a waiting list as long as the number of students that we have here.

TC: Which is?

CG: We cap out at 30. The kids can start in 8th grade.


“What I like about making art is that I like getting all the details in my art and I like coloring my artwork. I also like how cool your art comes out when it is complete and finished.”

–Chrysalis student


I also had a minute to speak with Orion Cervio, co-head teacher at Chrysalis. 

(Orion is on a field-trip to Washington, DC with some of the Chrysalis students,
so I couldn’t get a picture of him, sorry!)

Orion Cervio: Chrysalis is a small, municipal alternative school. It is built on the family model & the education-philosophy that the arts are essential to a quality education for students who have learning & behavioral disabilities & challenges. It is a testament to the vision of the Taos community that a school like this is supported to the extent that it is.

TC: And Carlos has been putting on this art show for 9 years?

OC: He hasn’t been putting on an art show for 9 years — this show is 9 years in the making. The show (at Taos Ale House) is a 9-year retrospective of artwork that he has done with the students.

TC: What benefits do you see in doing this art at Chrysalis?

OC: I have been here for 7 years, & for the past 9 years Carlos, & previously Ed Heffernin who was one of the founders of the school, have received students here who have no experience of success whatsoever in schools & that’s why they arrive here. And when they do, maybe 1 in 10 of them believes they have any abilities, any artistic abilities . . . & they come here & they discover that they are artists, that they do have a legitimate voice, an important voice & that they are capable of something that they never experienced . . . which is success! When you look at the quality of the art in the retrospective it is on par with anything. It is a testament to the teaching & to the environment & the way that students respond to it.


 Throat Culture wants to thank everyone at the Chrysalis Alternative School for their time & for a great show at the Taos Ale House (which will stay up indefinitely). Please make a point to go out & see this show, easily one of the most exciting art shows in town. The pieces are for sale, proceeds go to the annual Washington, DC field-trip.


Maxwell Tart.