Art teacher’s past influences his students in the classroom today

Art has been a driver of social change throughout history, and Edison Middle School visual arts teacher Gerard Caliste is using his experience as a student artist to transform the way his students view their craft and the world around them.

“My kids are learning to paint on anything,” Caliste said. “They are learning to see anything as art. They love the creation process, and I make sure to facilitate that first.”

In his teens, New Orleans-born Caliste, who is one of 22 teacher artists selected to exhibit new works for the Inaugural HISD Visual Art Teacher Exhibition, became involved with the New Orleans based youth art organization YAYA, which gives artistically talented inner-city youth the space to have non-critical access to creative materials. And, according to him, the organization gave him the support he needed to develop his artistic confidence and skills.

“I always wanted to be an artist and they helped me to develop my skills and do just that,” he said. “They helped me to understand the business of art. They teach not just the application of art but the process of installations, logistics and travel.”

With the help of YAYA, Caliste was able to become a working artist at the age of 15. In 1994, his designs were selected by the United Nations and turned into seat covers for the delegate seats of the UN’s general assembly room. He has also worked with Swatch Watch, MTV, and Viacom. His art work is in the private collections of notable people like actor Brad Pitt and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

After earning his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design, Caliste moved to Houston and began his teaching. According to Caliste, working at a school as culturally diverse as Edison has served as a source of inspiration. Seeing how his students’ art reflects who they are and where they came from gave him a renewed sense of his own work and served as a reminder of his passion.

“Art gives the kids energy, and it is wonderful to see their confidence grow,” Caliste said. “They are learning that art doesn’t always have to be realistic. Kids are natural expressionists. I want to teach them to appreciate that. That is what YAYA taught me.”

Caliste will feature a piece from his Re Owned series in the HISD Visual Art Teacher Exhibition, which features post-consumer product packaging that he turned into mixed-media art work. Using recyclable material in art is not a new concept, but it is a passion he wants to instill in his students.

“I felt the renewed awareness of how we all can contribute to being stewards of the land,” he said. “We have to reutilize our resources. I am trying to push the consciousness of what it could be instead of just the base material. What else can it be? How else can we use it? We will not have a choice after a while.

“Most of my students’ work is recyclable. We transform anything. Picasso painted on cardboard, why can’t my kids?” Caliste said.

Caliste’s extended Re Owned series is currently on view at his gallery Ge. Cali Studio Gallery (1503 W. 18th street, 77008). His works can be viewed online at

The HISD Visual Art Teacher exhibition is now open at Mid Main Lofts (3550 Main St, 77002), and pieces will be on display in the windows of the Main Street Projects Gallery Space through March 31. The exhibition is free to the public. For more information, visit