Opinion

‘Common Ground’ celebrates art for all

Julie Biggs
ISLAND FORUM

There is nothing like Fine Arts Showcase. Six years ago I came to teach in the Mercer Island School District after working in both the Kent and Shoreline School Districts. There, students had many opportunities to display their art in classrooms or schools, but never all students of all ages in one place. Showcase is not a competition, or a requirement - it is purely a celebration of “the universal language” of art. That’s why I particularly like this year’s theme, “On Common Ground,” as the arts bring us together through our appreciation of student expression in drawing and painting, photography, ceramics, dance, choral performances and music.

As teachers of art in Washington state, “student creative expression” has taken on a whole new meaning. Beginning with the class of 2008, all high school students must take one full year of study in the arts at benchmark three (Grade 10). In addition, by 2010, classroom-based assessments and classroom-based performance assessments will be used statewide at all grade levels to measure student learning of arts, social studies, and health/fitness. The state has set very high standards in the arts and it is up to us as teachers, with the support of the District and community, to make sure our students reach these standards.

Exactly what does a classroom-based assessment look like? At 8th grade, visual art students may be asked to create a realistic self-portrait of their head, face, neck and shoulders. The portrait should be drawn using a variety of line types, different line qualities, values, proportion and balance to express an emotion or feeling in the facial features. Then, the student is required to write a written response to explain how they created the expression of emotion in their drawing. Many of my 8th grade students worry that they don’t know how to draw, but I tell them that drawing, just like reading, is something anyone can learn - it just takes instruction, time and practice. The state’s vision is that students will learn the basic skills starting in kindergarten, but for now, I take students wherever they are and differentiate my instruction to meet their needs. Sometimes it is daunting, it is always hard work, but extremely rewarding to watch my students gain confidence in their artistic abilities.

So come to Fine Arts Showcase on March 20 and 21. Let us show off the talents of our students in drawing and painting, photography, graphic design, jewelry-making, ceramics dance, music and drama. Celebrate with us something we as art teachers have always known: “the arts are a subject of essential study for all learners, a subject that naturally integrates with itself, and a subject that naturally integrates with all subject areas.”

Fine Arts Showcase begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. for arts viewing and on-going crafts projects directed by the MIHS Art Club and Art Honor Society. Musical performances include Jazz Choir at 7 p.m. and Jazz Ensemble at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday evening continues with art on display from 5:30 - 9 p.m., steel drum performances and two musical performances in the gym, the last one ending at 9 p.m.

Advanced tickets are $5 per night, or $7 at the door (including crafts activities on Tuesday evening). You may also purchase family admission tickets at the Platinum Patron level ($75) or Gold level ($50). All proceeds benefit the district Fine Arts Programs. Showcase is put on by the Fine Arts Advisory Committee (FAAC) a non-profit organization. For ticket information and a schedule of events, check the district web site at www.misd.k12.wa.us

Julie Biggs teaches Exploratory Art, Art & Design and Ceramics at Islander Middle School.

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