The opening of the Career Technical Education Center Hobbs created vacancies in several rooms at Hobbs High School that once housed classes and-moved to the new facility.
Visual arts is one of the programs which benefitted, giving student artists and their instructor, John McMillan, a new place to call home in the former construction and engineering classroom in the 500 wing of the school.
“This is a place of unbridled potential,” McMillan told the News-Sun this week. “We’ve still got some things we need to do, some modifications we’re going to need. But it does have a lot of potential.”
“I really love the new room,” said Sophia Zerlin, 15, one of the student artists. As a sophomore, this is Zerlin’s first year of art classes at the high school, so she never experienced working in the former art room.
The new room is “really spacious and it gives you room to think,” Zerlin said. “It helps me get creative, get on the floor and draw. It also helps you be more social with your friends (because) you’re not isolated. It doesn’t fee like a typical classroom. I’m comfortable in here.”
The first time senior Arantca Romo, 17, walked into the new room, she was taken by how different it was from the art program’s previous digs.
“I really didn’t like how white it was,” she said. “Our old room had a bunch of designs, where people had painted on the walls and stuff. But I think this place has a lot of potential.”
The layout is different than his previous space, McMillan said. It’s spread over three separate rooms, including two classrooms on either end with a large work space in the middle. Not a lot has been done to the work are yet, he said, as the district was focused on getting CTECH up and running both with funds and labor availability.
“But I believe the plans are, within the next year or two, to renovate this space to make it more of an art space,” McMillan said. “There just weren’t funds to fix up the room with CTECH going up.”
His younger students are excited at the prospect of being part of the process of converting the space for art. But some already are starting to feel at home in the new space.
“It’s really like a studio,” said sophomore Morgan Dodson, 15. “Right now, it’s not very lively, but we can add stuff, make it more of an art room rather than just a big room filled with desks. I’m excited to give it a pop of color. I could tell people I was part of the class that got the new art room. That’s pretty exciting.”
Senior Justin Marruto, 17, agreed. Though he didn’t really like the new art room when he first walked through the doors at the start of this year, it has grown on him over the intervening weeks, he said.
“As much as I enjoyed the last room, I like the restart of it all here in the new room,” Marruto said. “It is missing a few things, but there’s the whole restart here. There’s a lot of possibilities with this room.”
With two years of creating in the previous high school art space under their belts, both Romo and Marruto miss their old room a little bit. But, even in their final year at Hobbs High, both are excited at the possibility of leaving their mark for future art students.
“I probably want to probably make a little design somewhere,” Romo said, looking around the room. “I’ve always liked art since I was little so I think making something on the wall would be very meaningful to me.
“I miss our old room a little bit. But I feel like we can make new memories here if we put in the effort to have a good time in here.”
Discussion of the new art room for McMillan’s classes started last fall, he said, when the high school was toying with the idea of hiring a second art teacher. Knowing the construction and engineering classes would eventually be moving over to the CTECH building, the idea was broached about moving visual arts into those classrooms.
McMillan has been teaching visual arts at Hobbs High School for the past 10 years, shifting from a career as a professional photographer, he said. His father introduced him to photography, but it was through the visual arts program at Hobbs High School that he began to truly hone his passion for the art.
Starting his sophomore year, McMillan expanded his skills to include drawing, painting and other media through the arts program at HHS. His junior year, McMillan took the advanced placement studio art class, with the goal to produce a portfolio of his drawings. His senior year, with the approval of his art teacher, his portfolio focused solely on photography.
“And I just continued doing that,” McMillan said.
After graduation, he moved on to New Mexico Junior College photography classes. By his second year the instructor “saw something in me, I guess. He had a wedding he needed to photograph but he’d signed on to do something else also. He asked me if I’d photograph the wedding.
“Once I did that, people just kept telling me, ‘You’re really good at this.’ And my dad was really proud of me. But I don’t do it professionally anymore, I just do it for fun.”
Through it all, the art room at Hobbs High School was like McMillan’s second home, a safe space he could go to and create. That’s the sense he tried to provide in the old art room, he said, one he hopes to carry forward into his new classroom space.
McMillan was also named one of the Veteto Foundation Excellence in Teaching award winners in 2018. What he remembers of the nomination letters which earned him the award were people saying repeatedly that he was a teacher who cared about his students.
“I treat the students like humans, like adults,” McMillan said of himself and his teaching philosophy. “I meet them where they’re at and I work with them.
“We start out with ‘What is your name?’ ‘What do you want to be called?’ I make sure they’re called by the name they want to be called, they’re called by the pronouns they want to be called. The more safe they feel, the more themselves they get to be, the stronger their art is going to be.”