Bentley Academy Students Expanding Artistic Horizons Under Alumni Artist Miguel Cruz ‘09

Posted on: January 11, 2024
Miguel Cruz Bentley Academy Mural

Mr. Cruz teaching exploration, patience to budding artists

SALEM (Jan. 11, 2023) – While watching the fourth and fifth grade students at the Bentley Academy Innovation School complete their mural, it’s difficult to figure out who is enjoying the process more, the students or their guest instructor, local artist Miguel Cruz.

Mr. Cruz, a 2009 graduate of Salem High School, spent six weeks with 17 fourth and fifth grade students – between 2-3 hours twice a week – guiding them in designing and creating a mural in a corner hallway.

Each image in the mural reflects the imagination of each student: a soccer player; a parrot;  symbolic theater masks connected by red ribbon; race cars side-by-side; a large cat ready to pounce and a curious image of childlike figure with an expansive reach, to name a few.

On this day, the last school day before Christmas, his student-artists are portraits of concentration, focused on completion rather than rambunctious in anticipation of the next week without school. 

Mr. Cruz works alongside a group of six students, soon to be replaced by a group of 11, all of whom pepper him with questions. He fields every question genuinely, often times demonstrating strokes and technique which the students dutifully comprehend and mimic.

Mr. Cruz simply wants each student to explore and use their imagination. “Why not explore the world of art where creation is unlimited,” he asks. “They have all their lives to be adults, so right now is the time for them to explore and have fun.”

There are several lessons that Mr. Cruz puts forward when guiding the students through the painting of the mural:

It’s your artwork.

There are no mistakes.

Use your imagination.

“Exploration without so much expectation,” he notes. 

Mr. Cruz coaches them on the value of shapes and colors and the importance to periodically step away and reflect. Near the end of the day, he implores each student to sign their names next to their work. The message there? To be proud of what they’ve created.

It’s working, attests fifth-grader Dyanna Polanco. “I love working with Mr. Cruz,” she said. “He’s made me explore painting in different ways. He shows me how to paint more smoothly and how to paint in layers.”

Mr. Cruz is a 2013 graduate of the Montserrat College of Art, and has enjoyed a celebrated career. Within a year of graduation, he was named to the Salem Public Art Commission by Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll, then the mayor of Salem.

In October, he was one of seven artists commissioned by the Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN) to create a piece for the Essex County Community Organization’s “Carry it On’ event. His piece, titled ‘When We Have Surfaced,’ celebrates the ECCO’s work for housing and immigration justice and criminal justice reform.

In May, Mr. Cruz completed a spray-paint mural in Cambridge honoring the Boston Celtics’ standouts Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, appropriately titled ‘Chemistry on the Court.’

A resident of Salem, Mr. Cruz is the brother of Salem School Committee Vice Chair and State Representative Manny Cruz, a 2010 SHS alumnus.

About Salem Public Schools

Salem Public Schools is an urban public school district in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is a small, diverse city with a proud maritime and immigrant history. Our leaders and our teachers are all passionate about education and understand the urgency of improving student achievement with equity and social-emotional needs as the lens we view all of our work through. We respect and value the racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity of our students and their families, and have a strong commitment to the Salem community. Salem Public Schools staff serve all of our students, regardless of ability or language. Salem Public Schools enrolls approximately 4,000 students across its eleven schools.