Six hundred and eighty six students were represented on the walls of the Berkeley Arts Center (BAC) Wednesday as part of the Berkeley Unified School District’s annual Youth Arts Festival.
Running through April 15, the visual arts exhibit showcases budding talent from all eleven Berkeley public schools to celebrate the 7th Alameda County March isArts Education month.
“It’s a way of reminding the community that arts is education,” said Suzanne McCulloch, program supervisor, visual and performing arts for BUSD.
“The festival is really important for students. They actually get to see their work up on the walls of a museum. How empowering is that!” she told the Planet excitedly.
The opening reception at Live Oak Park drew more than nine hundred children and their families who had come to compare, admire or just take a look at the range of creativity.
“The children could see the changes in the drawings in the different grades. Kindergarten paintings were more traditional and made from cut paper or crayons. The older kids had more photography, because that’s something they learn at the high school level,” said McCulloch.
Chalk renderings by students of Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) and Cragmont Elementary School were among the most admired artwork.
“I think one of the great things about the exhibit is that it is public. It gives people in the Berkeley community a chance to come and see what Berkeley Unified kids are doing,” said BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan.
“People often hesitate to visit school sites. This collaborative effort between the Berkeley Arts Center and the school arts community reaches a broad spectrum of people. Also, the kids love the fact that their art is being shown in a public forum.”
The Berkeley Arts Center has been hosting the event for the last fifteen years, said BAC Executive Director Jill Berk Jiminez, who took over from Robben Henderson recently.
A San Francisco native, Jiminez has been a museum curator for the last decade, most recently at the Tampa Museum of Art.
“It’s just fabulous, inspiring and beautiful to see the range of work the students put up and the world through their eyes,” said Jiminez.
“The 250 pieces help us to know what is going on in their mind. Science and studies have shown us how important art is. But more importantly, art is an outlet for children, especially since everything around us today is a received image. We really believe in the power of art. We want to support public school children and give them a form to shape their work and express themselves.”
After schools were informed about the March exhibit in January, art teachers selected the displays and hung them up on the walls themselves.
“The most exciting part was to highlight art which is getting squished out from academics,” said Barbara Vogel, art teacher with John Muir Elementary School, who worked with regular students as well as two of the hearing impaired classrooms for the project.
“We selected from art that was done throughout the school year in a balanced way,” she said.
Funding for the visual arts exhibit comes from the City of Berkeley. Apart from the exhibit, BAC will also be hosting the Berkeley High School concert band, a poetry workshop and a youth concert on April 1, 5 and 8 respectively.
A thousand people gathered in the Berkeley Community Theater Sunday to hear the results of a strong music education in the Berkeley schools. The Performing Arts Showcase—also part of the Youth Arts Festival—gave parents and community members a chance to see all levels of student performance in one afternoon.
“If you have younger students, this is a chance to see all that awaits them in our middle and high schools, and if your children are older, this is a great way to look back at your own wonderful memories,” said Coplan.
Performances by the chorus, orchestra and jazz bands from the different schools entertained the audience throughout the day with pieces as varied as Tchaikovsky’s Opus. 48 (string serenade) and Mark Williams’ “Fiddles on Fire.”
Sponsored by the BUSD music department, the event allowed advanced school students from each grade level to perform together.
“I think the teachers are all doing a wonderful job of guiding students and helping them hone their skills,” said McCulloch. “The one thing I would like to see at Berkeley High is a choral music program. They have chorus at the elementary and middle school levels and it would be great if students got to continue that in high school.”