Arts programs target student success; Young artists create colorful installations

Posted 7/30/19

By Matt Roy and Josh Martinez, Independent Newsmedia

Thanks to grant funding and the generosity of area nonprofit groups, students across the Valley are learning to use their hands and minds to …

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Arts programs target student success; Young artists create colorful installations


Thanks to grant funding and the generosity of area nonprofit groups, students across the Valley are learning to use their hands and minds to create tangible, colorful works of art in ceramics, aluminum and other durable media.

Program organizers hope the creative efforts of these student-artists will produce lasting masterpieces — as well as a lasting and beneficial impact on participants.

In communities as geographically disparate as Peoria and Scottsdale, arts teachers and program planners are optimistic about the coming school year and opportunities to enrich the lives of eager, young artists.

Students at one Peoria high school this fall will continue a multi-year installation of painted, handcrafted ceramic tiles; while some Scottsdale students who recently participated in a special arts workshop will see their creation displayed at an annual festival.

Peoria arts growth

Surprise resident Margaret Lieu, who teaches fine arts and technology at Peoria Accelerated High, said thanks to renewed funding from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, her students will continue to create works on a theme of growth over the course of school year, building on programs from previous years.

“The idea behind the grant is to continue an arts program,” Ms. Lieu said. “This is a two-year planned grant and, as long as we fulfilled what was needed in the first one, we were likely to get the second one. We’re supposed to eventually be able to compare the two years of the program and demonstrate growth.”

The second-year grant, approved by the arts commission as part of its Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnership Grant program, provides approximately $13,700 this year, which will be spent on materials, artists’ fees and administration and evaluation of the grant program, Ms. Lieu explained.

She said her school has targeted a number of improvement areas, including fostering a campus culture and student participation in extracurricular programs. This arts program is ideally suited to address those goals, which are consistent with the arts commission’s funding requirements, according to Ms. Lieu.

The state-run arts commission announced earlier this more than $2.6 million in funding for the coming year, with 260 grants approved by the governor-appointed board at their June 27 meeting.

“The Arizona Commission on the Arts … announced that over $2.63 million has been awarded to nonprofit arts organizations, festivals, and education programs throughout the state,” the agency stated at their website, “This action represents the allocation of 75% of the Arts Commission’s annual grants budget, with several other grant programs running throughout the year.”

The Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnerships Grants, which are targeted at Title I schools, will allocate nearly $63,000 in second-year support to four programs across the Valley, including the arts project at Peoria Accelerated.

Ms. Lieu said she hopes the program will encourage her students to engage more with school, improving attendance rates and instilling a sense of pride among participants.

“Our school is an at-risk school and most of our students are very transient and, for the most part, many have been from as many as three to seven different schools in their high school careers so far,” Ms. Lieu said. “Sometimes when you work with a transient population with lower socioeconomic status families, education isn’t really the top priority, because sustaining the family take priority.

She said in some cases, her students are the primary breadwinners in their homes. Or their parents are the breadwinners, but unreliable childcare leads some students to miss school days as they tend to younger children at home for parents who cannot miss work.

Stressed by the rigors of core academic schoolwork on top of significant responsibilities at home, some students find it difficult to engage or invest in extracurricular activities.

But school officials see arts project like Ms. Lieu’s as an opportunity to inspire.

“We’re hoping to encourage some of those who might otherwise fall by the wayside to stick it through,” Ms. Lieu said. “Because when there is something fun for them to do here that can help create some identity and pride and a sense of accomplishment at school, that may encourage them to attend and participate more consistently.”

She said the themes they’ve been working with over the past few years have all touched on growth.

This year’s installation will incorporate thumbprint designs on 8 by 8-inch ceramic tiles, which will mimic the shape of a seed with a sprout budding out of it. The tiles will be handcrafted by more than 300 participants, each boasting a unique design and color scheme.

“Each tile will be individually designed and colored by the students. The idea is that they are sprouting and continuing that growth and propagating elsewhere,” Ms. Lieu said.

At the start of each educational block this year, a new cohort of students will transfer their own thumbprint designs onto paper using ink. That design will then be enlarged on a printer and cut into a plastic template before being transferred to the tile blanks by the artists, who will cut the lines and grooves into the clay before painting and firing the tiles, she explained.

At the end of the year, the tiles will be installed in the school’s new community garden, which was established during the last school year in partnership with city of Youngtown officials and a local landscaping company, according to Connie Whitlock, Ms. Lieu’s program partner and executive director of WHAM, a community arts organization based in Surprise.

The nonprofit group primarily serves the West Valley, with programs aimed at patrons and participants in Surprise, Sun City West, Sun City, El Mirage, North Peoria, Glendale, Youngstown, Buckeye and Wickenburg.

Ms. Whitlock said she worked closely with the Peoria students last year on their installation entitled Together We Fly, which incorporated more than 300 hand-painted ceramic bird designs into a mural display at their campus.

“This last grant was a year-long effort where I worked as the artist and would meet with Margaret’s class and we made ceramic tile birds,” Ms. Whitlock said. “The kids learned about clay, they learned about techniques, they learned about making the actual product, they glazed them. And then in May we installed them at the atrium at their school and we had over 300 birds, which are flying out of the original Together We Grow tree.”

Ms. Whitlock said she’s excited to partner again with Ms. Lieu and school officials. With renewed funding, the program will build on previous successes, she said.

“You’re only allowed to have it two years in a row and we got it our second year,” Ms. Whitlock explained. “What we’re trying to do this year is help foster an identity for the students at the school.”

Scottsdale project

For a group of Scottsdale students, one arts program provides an opportunity to display their work at a prestigious festival later this year.

The Canal Convergence festival each year seeks to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for the senses, including both sight and sound; but this fall, several Scottsdale teenagers look to take the event to the next level, according to a report published earlier this month by the Scottsdale Independent, a weekly community newspaper.

Members of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale participated in a five-day workshop, where they teamed up with Elana Novali of Arcosanti and Norm Pratt of Scottsdale Arts to create a collaborative sculpture addressing issues of responsible water use.

Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation is facilitating the project. The final pieces will be displayed at this year’s Canal Convergence, slated for Nov. 8-17 at the Scottsdale Waterfront and at Convergence at Arcosanti later in the fall.

Mr. Pratt said students will learn skills in ceramics, metalworking and aluminum casting as well as a better understanding of “what it means to be an informed and accountable citizen of our planet.”

Club members went to Cosanti in the Town of Paradise Valley to learn several aspects of aluminum casting, tour the grounds and learn more about Arcosanti’s founder, the late Paolo Soleri.

“Our hope is that students will be able to take the skills and knowledge into their own communities to further share awareness of the subjects covered in the workshop,” Mr. Pratt said.

Teenagers who participated are from all over Scottsdale as well as the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Participation was optional, said Lyndal Pleasant, director of arts programming with BGCGS.

Jonathan Angeles, 15, said he chose to participate because he wanted to learn.

“I chose to do this because I thought it was a good opportunity to learn more about architecture and nature and how they work together,” he said.

BGCGS has partnered with Scottsdale Arts numerous times over the past year, Ms. Pleasant said. The club also wanted to use Scottsdale Arts’ resources to “provide high-quality arts programming for our kids,” she said.

“It was kind of a natural progression,” she said. “When this opportunity came up, it was the work of Scottsdale Arts and Norm , who was in touch with Cosanti, to make this project a reality.”

This is the second year Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation has facilitated a project like this as it partners with Arizona State University’s The Design School to serve K-8 students at Tonalea Elementary School in Scottsdale.

Editor's Note: Josh Martinez contributed to this report.