Opinion

Island Forum | Fine Arts Showcase celebrates 30 years of culture

David Bentley
Island Forum

On March 24 and 25, an amazing array of creativity and talent will once again “wow” patrons at Mercer Island’s annual Fine Arts Showcase — as they have for a remarkable 30 years.

The Showcase is unique not only in its longevity as a Mercer Island institution, but also in its comprehensive scope. Combining celebration and fundraising, the two-evening program at Mercer Island High School includes a display of visual arts in many media, dramatic and dance performances, and band, orchestra, steel band, choir and small ensemble performances by students across all grades, K-12, from every school in the Mercer Island School District (MISD).

Although spiced with gigs by the high school jazz band and jazz choir, the first night of the Showcase highlights the visual arts in particular. This year, high school student docents will provide guided tours of their artwork, explaining the techniques and disciplines involved. On Tuesday night, Showcase visitors can also watch art demonstrations and even try their own hand at several all-ages art project tables. Strolling viewers will find the high school hallways transformed into an art gallery, with a pleasing serenade by small chamber music ensembles enhancing the atmosphere. Ensuring family-friendliness, gourmet hot dogs and yummy fruit smoothies will be available for cash purchase to satisfy hungry tummies and complete the evening’s sensory enjoyments.

A little drama, a little dancing and a 15-group, two-part powerhouse music concert are Wednesday night’s special features. All visual art displays will still be up to peruse, too, and many concertgoers will arrive early to do just that while jiving irresistibly to the effervescent good cheer of the high school steel band’s pre-show. Starting at 6:30 p.m. in the gym, each of the district’s middle and high school bands, orchestras and choirs will perform in either the earlier or the later 8:15 p.m. show, along with two high school drama groups and the ever-charming All Third Grade Choir & Dance Troupe.

There is one more unusual aspect to the Showcase: the grant philosophy of its all-volunteer, nonprofit co-sponsor, the Mercer Island Fine Arts Advisory Committee (FAAC). Believing that the best way to support fine arts education is to respect both the time and expertise of fine arts teachers, FAAC grants the event proceeds directly to them, along with full decision-making authority to distribute and spend those funds according to their firsthand knowledge of districtwide fine arts program needs and how to balance them with fairness and efficiency.

Music, art, drama and dance are essential elements of every human culture. Modern scholarship confirms that early education in the fine arts has tremendous benefits in the development of mental and physical skills, self-discipline and self-confidence, and the promotion of good citizenship. MISD students are blessed by the support of their wider community and the wisdom of their School Board, which includes the fine arts in its core curriculum requirements. Now more than ever, with major budget issues looming, our students need assured support for this important aspect of their education. A fine arts program that has taken years to build can be crippled at a stroke because the coursework is sequential. Excellence at the high school level is utterly dependent on a good foundation in elementary school and unbroken continuation through middle school. Cutting the program at any level can cause a ruinous gap that leaves a whole generation of kids without opportunity to advance. In their absence, program quality at higher levels quickly crumbles.

Please your senses, lift your spirits, feed your soul and support fine arts education by making a tax-deductible donation to FAAC and attending Showcase 2009: “Creative to the Core!” Tickets can be purchased by donation online with a credit card, by mail with a personal check, or at the door with cash or check. For program and donation information, visit the FAAC Web site: www.mifineartsed.org.

Mercer Island School District Fine Arts Coordinator David Bentley has been a band director involved in building the MIHS band program for 14 years.

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