Young artists get a place to shine

April 13, 2012|Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
  • As part of the Washington County Public School exhibit, students receive recognition for their art work that is displayed at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
Submitted photo

As part of the Washington County Public School exhibit, students receive recognition for their art work that is displayed at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

By Rebecca Massie Lane

Special to The Herald-Mail

"What is required is sight and insight — then you might add one more: excite"

— Robert Frost

"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth ... democratic society — in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself."

— John F. Kennedy

For some 60 years, in April and May, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts hosts an exhibition featuring works by students in grades kindergarten through 12. 

Receptions sponsored by the museum's volunteers are held for the students and their families and friends; more than 8,000 people annually attend the events associated with this popular program and some 7,000 students exhibit a work of art.

The Washington County art teachers and art curriculum leaders, Rob Hovermale and Don Viar, work tirelessly to encourage students, select work and prepare the works of art for exhibition.

When I was in elementary school, we didn't have such a grand museum in which to exhibit our art, but we created visual art, we read the poetry of Robert Frost, we played flutes and sang together, and we danced. 

I was fortunate to have parents — educators — who valued the arts and provided me with opportunities to learn more outside of school. I didn't realize that it was in part because of Robert Frost and John F. Kennedy that I enjoyed these benefits as a child. 

But I do remember listening to JFK on television and realizing for the first time that art was something grown-up people did as their life's pursuit and that a very important American leader valued art and believed it was important.

Art wasn't only a decoration on the school bulletin board, a school play or a hastily put together PTA program only enjoyed by children, then left behind for the serious things of life.

But as I advanced through school, I realized that fewer and fewer of my schoolmates continued to read poetry, to sing or play music, to create visual art and dance.

At the dedication of the Kepler Center at Hagerstown Community College last week, Guy Altieri, college president, read from that famous Kennedy speech, which has become a philosopher's stone in my life and an inspiration for many artists and arts leaders. 

In addition to expressing the value of the arts themselves, Kennedy also expressed the value of arts institutions that encourage and support the arts: symphony orchestras, art museums, opera and dance companies, theaters, artist's organizations and arts councils.

Kennedy also realized artists and arts organizations need support.  His vision led to the establishment of such important support systems as the Business Committee for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Following the national lead, states established governmentally funded arts councils, which provided grants to working artists and regional arts institutions and organizations.

When I taught arts management, Kennedy's speech was required reading for my students.

When I speak to America's elected leaders about the value of the arts and the importance of the arts, the inspirational words of Kennedy and Frost are in my mind. With every college and school that supports arts education, we increase our chances of maintaining leadership as a thinking, creative and explorative America. 

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is one of this country's arts institutions which supports and encourages the works of artists, young and old, in the past and in the present, and which provides opportunities for art education in abundance.

This year, the kindergarten through sixth-grade art exhibition at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts opens to the public on Saturday, April 21, with a reception on Sunday, April 22. 

The middle and high school students' exhibition opens Saturday, May 12, with a reception on Sunday, May 13.

The event is an outpouring of creative ideas, budding craft and exuberant expression.

In another very important art educational partnership with the Washington County Public Schools, the museum co-created a museum-literacy program that this year serves fourth-graders and connects the students to important works of art in the museum's art collection.

Recognizing the importance of art education, the museum provides area youth with opportunities for a wide variety of art classes, free Saturday workshops, summer art camps and art workshops for special needs groups including the hearing impaired and the physically and mentally challenged.

The museum remains open to the public, encourages visitors from near and far through its free admission policy and welcomes all who wish to encounter works of art by the emerging artists in our schools and by the established artists of the centuries.

With President Kennedy, "I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty."

"If you're looking for something to be brave about, consider fine arts." — Robert Frost

Rebecca Massie Lane is director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

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