Voices: One man’s canvas: Sharing life through art

By Arch Jones

I’m a practicing artist and art teacher in the St. Paul School District. I’ve always loved being creative and making original work.

My upbringing was constantly in flux. I’ve got a large family, and often I used drawing and painting as a way to escape some of that instability.

As I grew up, so did the content of my work. Rather than ignore the struggles of racial inequity, crime and poverty that I saw, I found that by drawing comic book characters and fictional universes, I began to embrace them and use them as springboards for my art.

I graduated from St. Cloud State University in 2018 with my art degree (go Huskies!) and moved back to the Twin Cities in 2019. Living back in Minneapolis as an adult gave me a more mature perspective of inner city dynamics, and I resolved to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Having little brothers, I’ve always enjoyed working with youth, and felt that was the most tangible way I could contribute. I began substitute teaching throughout the metro in 2020. After bouncing around in temporary gigs, I found a full-time position in St. Paul, where I’m currently teaching both middle and high school students.

Working with older students, I’ve become aware of just how many come from even rougher neighborhoods than I did. The stories that I’ve been fortunate enough to hear include homelessness, deaths of friends and family, self-harm and mental health issues. As a face that happens to look like a majority of the student body, I’ve been able to engage in a dialogue with them.

For me, it’s important that students see art as an integral part of a healthy community. As a practicing artist myself, I make art right alongside my students.

Many of my works include relatable motifs: in a print series, “Repercussions,” a person wearing Air Force One sneakers steps on a man’s head. In “Knock Knock,” an oil pastel piece, police officers, depicted as night terrors, carrying a no-knock order in one’s hands, rouse a young Black man from his bed. “ADIDAS Yeezy Bus Runner” is a surrealist commentary on our Black culture’s general lack of financial literacy.

While I’m happy to know my work resonates with my students, the most visceral of my art has been developed over the past two to three years, as a response to the shifting landscape caused in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing civil unrest. I’m 27, in a place where I’m healthy enough to absorb and process much of what I’ve seen. I have 10th graders who have created art addressing this same content and more—all from personal experience.

Eventually, I hope to attend graduate school to earn my MFA. I’d like to continue dialing my scope of practice in, and improve my technical artistic ability.

For right now though, I feel I’m exactly where I need to be, and will continue using art as a tool to help students engage with their culture, and engage themselves. 

Arch Jones is a practicing artist and an art teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools.

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