Spring is time for Fine Arts Showcase - Island Forum

By David Bentley

The beginning of spring signifies the coming of a hallmark Island tradition; Mercer Island School District Fine Arts Showcase. Fine Arts Showcase is an annual event put on in partnership by the Mercer Island Fine Arts Advisory Committee and the Mercer Island School District Originating in 1980, the showcase has grown to include two full evenings of arts performance and display. From ceramics to symphonic orchestra, from jewelry to jazz, you'll find it all at Fine Arts Showcase! It's truly inspiring to see what is possible when talented and dedicated students meet the opportunity that quality instruction provides.

Each year's showcase is identified with a unifying theme. This year's showcase, ``We Dream?'' will include a broad selection of visual artwork, as well as musical, dramatic and dance performances.

The dates of showcase this year will be Tuesday, March 8, and Wednesday, March 9. Tuesday night is designated as visual art preview night. Contrasted with the bustling energy of Wednesday evening, Tuesday night's preview is a more leisurely opportunity to soak in the literally hundreds of visual works presented. Ranging from kindergartners' first creations, to the eye-popping work of talented high school students, Tuesday is a sight for all eyes. Demonstrations of ceramic work in progress and exciting raku firing will also be featured. A list of musical performances on Tuesday will include IMS and MIHS jazz band and choir performances, the Lakeridge Steel band, Crest Bluegrass and MIHS Drama Improv.

In addition to much of the same artwork as Tuesday, Wednesday's extravaganza will include spectacular performances by bands, choirs, orchestras, drama scenes and dance ensembles from across the district. These performances are divided into two separate and different shows, at 6:30 and 8:15 p.m. For a complete listing of groups featured in these performances, as well as ticket order information, please download the ticket order form posted on the district Web site, at www.misd.k12.wa.us/news/districtnews/finearts.html

The rich tradition of excellence in arts education in our district is no accident. It would be a mistake to assume that this well-conceived and thoughtfully delivered program has always been a part of our school system. In the early 1970s, a group of community members frustrated by the lack of a quality music program in the district formed the original ``Mercer Island Music Advisory Committee.'' They examined exceptional music programs in other school districts, and identified the components vital to each one's success. The elements they recognized included highly qualified and motivated staff, district level support and coordination, necessary financial resources, community visibility, and access for students. The committee proceeded to take steps to create, and advocate for these attributes in the Mercer Island School District. This effort began the 26-year process that led to the exemplary opportunity that our students presently enjoy. In 1999, the committee expanded to include visual art, drama and dance to their mission of support.

The inclusion of a comprehensive arts program in school curriculum is not enrichment, and it's not a frill. It is imperative for comprehensive academic development. The state of Washington identifies the arts as one of the ``Essential Academic Learning Requirements.'' ``No Child Left Behind'' designates music as a core academic subject. The College Board identifies the arts as one of the six basic academic subjects students need in order to succeed in college. An overwhelming body of research demonstrates that participation and study in the arts leads to higher test scores in mathematics, spatial reasoning, language and other academic areas. The longer students study the arts, the larger the gap in test scores. Howard Gardner, author of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, says, ``To ignore the arts is to literally deprive the brain.'' It is for these reasons, and many more, that we must ensure the future stability of our excellent arts program!

On behalf of all of the fine arts staff, I would like to thank the Mercer Island community for your continued support of the Fine Arts Program. Without it, fantastic opportunities like Fine Arts Showcase simply would not exist. Tireless effort by the many volunteers of the Fine Arts Advisory, Schools Foundation, PTSAs and many other organizations are the engine that make Fine Arts Showcase and events like it happen. Your support makes great things happen for kids. Thanks!

David Bentley has been director of bands at Mercer Island High School and Islander Middle School for 17 years, and Mercer Island School District Fine Arts Coordinator since 1999.

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