I don’t typically write about my job as a teacher. For one, I’ve only held a position as a full-time high school art teacher since September. What’s more, I try to maintain a certain level of privacy with respect to my personal life. I do break this unwritten rule occasionally. Most often, I do this for special moments or events I feel compelled to share, and this past Friday, one such event took place.
Last week, the high school where I work hosted a district-wide arts festival. This is something they’ve done now for a number of years. On display were creative works from every grade level (kindergarten through high school), from every school in the district, with work from every creative discipline offered (studio arts, industrial arts, fashion, music, etc–though the music department, of course, put on performances rather than displayed work).
This is the one night a year when the arts are highlighted and the focus is on the students and the work they produced through long hours of creative thought and applied technical skill (the two elements that I believe are the foundation of all creative processes). Music performances were held throughout the night, and the hallways were filled with everything from paintings and Graphic Design prints to sculptures and model cars. Other performances (such as gymnastics demonstrations) took place in the gymnasium, which was split in half to allow room for those graduating seniors in the Honors Art Society to display their work at tables set up not much differently than what I’ve experienced at a comic convention.
The show was and is wonderful opportunity for the students to display their work and have it appreciated by a large audience–and the audience was large. The halls were packed wall to wall with students, staff members, parents and other members of the community and all of them looking at the art, taking it in and asking questions.
Now, the little known fact is that I went to school in the district I’m now teaching, and there was never anything like this when I was going to school. Sure there were opportunities to display our work in the hallways (and I think my work was included in one or two small, group-gallery shows outside of school), but never an art show on this level. In fact, there was never this level of interest or support in the arts. Though, to be sure, the art program was not nearly as good then as it is now (as I came to realise very quickly when I entered my first year at Pratt Institute).
I’m often cynical about how art is perceived by the general public, but this the emphasis and support on this show gives me hope that perhaps people are still deeply appreciative of the arts. More, I’m hopeful that with this sort of attention being given to the arts at an educational level, perhaps what disregard there is for art and its importance will change, and those students who grow up to be artists might have less apprehension about their own work and instead be filled with a confidence and pride in it.
More school districts should be putting on arts festivals like this. It’s something that both as an artist and as a teacher I was extremely excited and happy to be a part of. I hope my students felt the same and appreciate the wonderful opportunity they’ve been given. Perhaps the winds of change are blowing, even if subtly. If so, I’m glad to be a part of it.