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Arts in Education: Fostering student development through amazing performances

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From February 24 through 26, there will be a showing of the play Almost Maine in Fort Collins. Written by John Cariani and set in the fictitious Maine town of Almost, this play follows one extraordinary night in the lives of nineteen townspeople. Named one of the top ten plays of 2004-2005, it is bound to be a great show.

What is more exciting about this production, though, is not just the play itself but the people putting it on. The students at Poudre High School have taken on the challenge of performing Almost Maine, and the payoff is sure to be huge. Cariani, an accomplished actor himself, made sure his play was both challenging and rewarding to its performers. This particular production is no exception, as only six students will be playing the roles of all nineteen characters. This really demonstrates their talent, hard work, and dedication, their young age aside. Considered the school’s “varsity” show, Almost Maine certainly boasts a lot of talent.

We know that the arts can have a huge impact on students. Learning to be creative, to express oneself through a positive medium, and to work as a team fosters both professional and social growth. But involvement in the arts also helps students out academically. According to a study by the National School Boards Association and Americans for the Arts in 2004, the arts are vital to education completion and contribute to a rising in student achievement. Students who participated in the arts were found to be 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, 3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools, and 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance, to name just a few points.

Studies also show that early involvement in the arts is helpful, too. And thanks to Suna Thomas, middle school students in Fort Collins can be active in the arts through music as well. In November, we found out about a band Suna helped form at Kinard Middle School that was creating places for kids to play instruments not always covered in school bands and orchestras (http://beetstreet.org/blog/?p=1180). With a unique blend of guitars, bass, drums, and electric instruments, the Kinard Middle School House Band has gained some serious popularity, playing at a Colorado Eagles game and at Art Lab Fort Collins. Suna has now founded the Kids Create the Music Foundation, an organization that helps encourage music in schools on the student’s terms. Allowing the students themselves to pursue their craft and learn through the arts is an amazing accomplishment.

Both at the junior high and high school level, students are getting more involved in the arts. They are challenging themselves in their own disciplines, creating music, performances, and art with as much talent as any professional. And while students gain advantages through arts education, they are also playing a vital role in the Fort Collins community. The entertainment and opportunity they provide for viewers and peers is fostering continuous growth in our town.

Students often go on after graduation to become accomplished in many professions, and few will follow careers in the arts. However, what they are learning and contributing right now through their involvement in the arts is invaluable. It is what helps build the accomplished future that they strive for.

Be sure to check out Almost Maine:
Where: Poudre High School, 201 S. Impala St.
When: February 24-26, 7:00pm
Tickets: $8 regular price, $6 student price.
Visit http://www.Showtix4u.com or call (970) 488-6212 for more ticket info.

For more information on the Kinard Middle School House Band and Kids Create the Music Foundation, please visit www.kidscreatethemusic.org.

Key Concepts : Art is Ordinary

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The United Kingdom’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, defines culture as an economic resource. Their position is that human creativity is essential, in contrast to the old world view that science, industry and culture are considered distinct. In fact, continuing to categorize human creativity is considered a serious barrier to progress in business, social regeneration and in the arts. “In the era of creative economy, art is ordinary, and there is essentially no difference between the creativity of the entrepreneur, the scientist and the artist” (creativeclusters.com). This means that creative individuals must work to unleash their creative pursuits by rejecting existing categories and paradigms to pursue new ways of thinking and working. In this model, entrepreneurial and technical skills become essential in the arts and traditional arts skills become critical in business.

“All this means that the role of the artist is changing. The artist is no longer a peculiar outsider, with a magical gift that the state or the rich must protect. Artistic creativity is an ordinary human activity. Playing a musical instrument, writing, making a film—these are specialisms and as with any specialism it’s hard work and some people will be better than others. But creative skill is not magic. It can be taught and learnt.”

(creativeclusters.com)

Do you think art is ordinary? Right now in Fort Collins (through September 25), you have a great opportunity to contemplate this question! In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, CSU’s University Art Museum received a gift of photographs by the legendary Pop artist Andy Warhol and you can see them along with borrowed examples of his Flower paintings (based on photographs of hibiscus blossoms). Andy Warhol’s art has become such a big part of US visual culture, that today it is easy to ignore how “out of the ordinary” it would have looked when he first created it. Did you know that Warhol used commercial fluorescent paints—not the oil paints that artists were “supposed” to use? His images and ways of making ordinary objects into graphic statements have become so much a part of our visual language that knock-off examples surround us in stores, advertising and interiors. For example, for a price online, you can upload your own photo image, have it transformed into a punchy, brightly colored, Warhol-like canvas, and hang it in your home.

Andy Warhol signing soup can in Fort Collins, 1981, Photo from CSU Library

Andy Warhol signing soup can in Fort Collins, 1981, Photo from CSU Library

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was born “Andrew Warhola,” to Slovakian immigrant parents. He was good at drawing and painting when he was young and later studied at what is now Carnegie Mellon University, continuing onto a career in magazine illustration and advertising. His sensibility for repetition and photo images grew out of mimicking mass advertising.

In the 1960s, when “fine art” and “commercial art” were still considered absolutely distinct categories in a hierarchy of creative expression, Warhol made paintings of famous American products like Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Later, he made silkscreen prints of products in order to not only make art about mass produced items but to actually mass produce art. He hired and supervised “art workers” to make prints, shoes, films, and other items at his studio, The Factory in New York City, which became the meeting place for a wide range of artists. Think Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, Truman Capote, Debbie Harry and The Velvet Underground for example. Warhol and other Pop artists challenged established ideas of art—including whether “fine art” could be mechanically reproduced. Ironically, Warhol’s work is now housed in established museums and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is the largest American art museum dedicated to a single artist! Do you think that debate has been won?

Moreover, long before the “Superstar,” reality television and internet fame possibilities of today, Warhol believed that the media could make any person famous in a cycle of disposable celebrity. He was especially drawn to the images of people in publicity stills and newspapers and to their stories of personal tragedy. He modified photo images to create iconic paintings of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and others. However, when he “sampled” a photograph from Modern Photography Magazine, the photographer sued. After that, Warhol took thousands of his own photographs, becoming a prolific photographer to create his own source material, although evidence of this process has not been widely exhibited. Did you know that Warhol often used an ordinary Polaroid camera to photograph friends, who like him, were also celebrities? Don’t miss your opportunity to see examples of how art is ordinary and learn more about Warhol right here in Fort Collins, at CSU’s University Art Museum.

While you are there, think about the relationships between photographer, model, and image. Our understandings of these 3 components of photography reveal much about our cultural definitions of art, artist, and creativity. Is art really ordinary? If art is ordinary, is art education basic to being educated? Where do art and process connect/disconnect? Should art be integrated into life, and everyday life into art?

Who gets to make art? What do you think? We look forward to hearing from you!

Read about Denver-based photographer Mark Sink’s relationship to Warhol—Andy Warhol was his hero.

Read about Warhol’s visit to Fort Collins in 1981.

Read memories of Warhol’s visit to Fort Collins.

The Fort Collins Museum and More Meetup Group

Thanks for the photo estaticist!

Art for all!

Deborah Lombard

Cultural Sector 101

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Recently, the Wallace Foundation, (an independent, national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing ideas and practices to expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people), commissioned the report: “How to Cultivate Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy,” by Laura Zakaras and Julia F. Lowell. You can find the report at www.wallacefoundation.org.

The authors of the report argue that in the last few decades, U.S. arts policies have worked on supporting arts programs and making them accessible (supply). However, they go on to discuss that not enough attention has been paid to developing perpetual audiences (demand). Evoking the fundamental law of supply and demand, Zakaras and Lowell illustrate that in order to grow a healthy cultural sector, Americans of all ages need to become lifelong participants in arts and culture. Numerous education research efforts show that students who acquire skills through standards-based arts education, have enriching arts experiences that, then lead to long-term arts involvement. This is the “chicken or the egg?” debate! First, we need the arts, next we need access to the arts and engaged participation. This will create the demand for more arts, and a thriving cultural sector which in turn, boosts our creative economy and leads to more arts!

Zakaras and Lowell point out that U.S. public schools are the primary source of arts learning for young Americans. No other system in our country has the same access to our young, the resources to teach them, and the capability to ensure that they have equal opportunity to learn about and benefit from the arts. Sadly, recent surveys suggest that a significant proportion of schools around the country offer minimal arts education. Both in the 1970s, and early 1990s, school districts across our country reduced their education spending, often by cutting arts specialist positions. Many of these positions have never been restored. In more recent years, general education reforms have shifted the focus to testing reading and mathematics, further eroding arts education. While educators and arts educators in Fort Collins work tirelessly to serve our children with the resources available, in these times of rethinking our very economy, it is imperative to demand MORE comprehensive arts education! This is a gift to our children that will keep on giving!

As parents, grandparents, care givers, aunts, uncles and extended family, we try to balance nutrition and provide education opportunities for the children in our families. Providing access to the arts and culture is not only key to healthy kids, but to their futures, and the future of the communities where they will live and work. We need to demand that they are prepared to fulfill their place in the equation!

Linden Hotel, Fort Collins

Linden Hotel, Fort Collins

Photograph taken with a pinhoe camera, World Pinhole Camera Day 2008

Photo taken with a pinhole camera for World Pinhole Camera Day 2008

This month my family will invest in our futures and Fort Collins! We will celebrate immigration with Grammy Award winning recording artist Dan Zanes, make a pinhole camera together to celebrate World Pinhole Camera Day, and even volunteer to help with frog research. While some programs and events require a fee, most are affordable, and many more are completely free! As a family, we enjoy upholding our end of the Supply/Access/Demand equation! What programs will you use to demonstrate that the cultural sector plays an extremely important part in making Fort Collins a great city? What comes first, the city or the citizen participation, or the city, or the citizen participation! A great place to see the range of possible activities and events for your family is the calendar at beetstreet.com

Whether you choose to enjoy a rockin’ band, explore Natural Areas in Fort Collins, or use a great library location (like the newly opened Council Tree Library in the Front Range Village Shopping Center), make sure that you include arts events and activities to grow your family’s cultural and arts competency! Not just this month, but into their future and beyond! At a time when investment returns seem minimal, publicly engaging in the arts is an investment that will grow!

Thanks for the great photos by photokayakerdaisybush, So gesehen.

Deborah-Eve Lombard