More than a hundred adults and uncountable children braved the elements to attend the 11th Annual Youth Arts Festival at the Berkeley Arts Center at 1275 Walnut St. in north Berkeley Wednesday evening.
Robbin Henderson, director of the center, said the wet weather diminished the turnout substantially, but that wasn’t evident in the enthusiasm and excitement of the throng of Berkeley parents, students, families, teachers and friends in attendance.
“We’ve been doing Youth Arts Festival for 11 years,” Henderson said. "All the work, all the performers are from the Berkeley public schools, grades K through 8. There are over 1,000 pieces of art in this show and it represents every K through 8 school in the district.”
The show runs until May 11.
“The best thing about this show is seeing the look in every kid's face as they come in and they see their artwork hanging in the gallery,” said Sharon Badillo, Youth Arts Festival curator and program coordinator for Berkeley Art Center. “You see that over and over again. It not only happens with the kids but the parents also feel great. And the teachers feel validated. You can’t walk into the exhibit without feeling great.”
Catherine Betts, mother of Oliver, a kindergarten student at Jefferson, said, “I think it's fantastic that people make the effort to do these sorts of things. [The kids] love seeing their work on show,” said Betts. “It validates them. Art has a very important place in the schools. That's why events like this are so important, to reinforce that.”
Her son, a shy and sweet-voiced five-year-old, squirmed with pleasure at the attention he was getting. Oliver is a student in Anna Wong’s Chinese bicultural kindergarten class at Jefferson School.
“The Chinese Bicultural Program is where children have opportunities to learn about the Chinese culture. They learn to sing and write and count and speak in Chinese. Even to read some basic Chinese characters," said Wong. "The class is very diverse. We get a mixture of different cultures. We get Latino, African-American, Caucasian and of course we get Asians. The children feel really good about it and it inspires them to learn more about their own native language and their own culture."
Another teacher, Lucy Ames, who teaches Visual Arts for K-6 students at Berkeley Arts Magnet at Whittier, explained the importance of arts programming and events like the festival.
“The classic argument for teaching art is because it helps the kids in other areas, but that's not really the argument I like to use," said Ames. "Art is part of life and it makes the kids’ lives full. Adults are amazed by what the kids can do because so many adults are not connected to their own creativity. When they see it, they just can’t believe it. So one of the messages of a show like this is not to underestimate what kids can do. Art is a way for some kids to express what they really can't express in other ways. Not every project is going to suit every student but there are times when you can see the kids just making connections. I had a student say to me the other day, ‘Hey I never knew I was good at this until I just did it!’ I'm really glad he found that out."
Max Miller, a 10-year-old fifth grader from Washington School, wasn't showing any of his work in this year's festival but he still attended the opening and recalled exhibiting his own art in prior years.
"I did it in kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade," said Miller. "I like art. It's pretty cool. The art classes at my school are fun."
When asked if the arts programs should be cut because of the current budget crisis, Max replied with an empathic “No!”
“I like clay best. You get to mold it with your hands and I like doing things with my hands,” Miller said. “My friend Charles, he likes clay a lot, too. My favorite thing working with clay is to make made-up creatures. You get to invent them yourself and you get to make them look funny or cool or scary.”
Also in attendance was John Selawsky, vice president of the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education, and his wife, Pam Webster.
“It’s just amazing that there's this kind of talent in the schools,” Webster said. “I don't know if it’s just me, but more than once it's brought tears to my eyes just looking at this work.”
When asked to comment on the layoff notices that recently went out to approximately 200 BSUD staff, including most art and music teachers, Selawsky pointed out the difficulty the district faces.
“We need more money from the state. The state's been under-funding us since Prop 13, especially the arts," Selawsky said. "Anything that's considered a luxury, arts, music, libraries, any of that stuff has been under-funded for 20 or 30 years now.”