Barnum and Bailey: Central Hardin Changes Pop-Culture

Alexis Smith, Writer

Each year Whitney Carpenter and Antonio Menendez, Central Hardin’s art teachers, cover material involving pop culture and give a pop culture assignment to students. After much discussion between Menendez and Carpenter, they decided to take a different approach to their pop culture project this year. 

“I visited a Circus Poster Audity Shop in Nashville, which gave me the idea to go forward with this project,” Carpenter said., “It was a different way to teach our students about pop culture due to the posters having colors and large animals as attention grabbers.” 

The posters Carpenter saw were adorned with bright red, green, blue, and yellow colors, and usually featured animal oddities. A giant gorilla, terrifying lions, and jolly, yet somewhat creepy clowns were placed in the center of posters, covered with information and dates of shows. This would draw audiences back in the eighteenth to twentieth century because of the thrill experienced, or fear factors associated with these oddities.

After discussing the posters with her class, students started coming up with ideas relating to modern day events and TV shows. People and characters such as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, Zombies from The Walking Dead, Donald Trump, and American Horror Story’s Freak Show, were all brought up, along with tragedies like the Australian wildfires and corruption in America’s government. 

“Students were allowed to create their own, or recreate a poster they liked, dealing with social, cultural, historical, or personal ideas,” Carpenter said. “As an art teacher, it’s hard not to censor the artwork when you don’t one hundred percent agree with it, so I basically told them: ‘If it can’t be in school, it can’t be on your poster.’ This way, I can give my students freedom, yet be sensitive towards their opinions and not sway their artwork.”  

In order to make this project a success, Carpenter spent hours researching the history of circus posters, and if any other modern artists had recreated them or made their own. Since students enjoyed this project so much, she will now be able to tweak it for future classes and figure out the time frame needed to finish the project. 

“It was originally supposed to be done on February 7th and I required the students to put that date somewhere on their poster,” Carpenter laughed. “We were out of school that day, so there was no way we could have gotten that done. I changed the date to February 10th, but some of my students are still working on them since flu season has a lot of kids out.”

Kyla Mattingly, a senior at Central Hardin, explained the idea behind her circus poster. 

“I collaborated with one of my friends for this project, and on my side of the poster, there are acrobats wearing tight clothing, handcuffed to their rings, and crying,” stated Mattingly. “I wanted to portray society’s standards for women’s beauty. How women are supposed to all look the same, like skinny and beautiful by society’s standards and the struggle of women trying to accept themselves.” 

Central Hardin senior, Shelby French, gave her feedback on the posters hanging up near the Library. 

“I wasn’t part of this project, but some of the artwork created really stood out to me,” said French. “The one with the koala on it about the Australian wildfires immediately caught my attention, and is one of my favorites because of the message behind it.”

Posters are posted near the Library and Art rooms. Carpenter would like to have students who are not part of her art classes to give students feedback in an online art gallery: Circus Poster