Exhibit fittingly called ‘Resilience”
When the Arlington ISD showcases its first exhibit in the new Center for Visual and Performing Arts just in time to commemorate Thursday’s statewide Big Art Day, it will be something of a threefold celebration. It’s not only a grand opening of sorts inside the new Visual Arts Gallery, it’s also a showcase of senior student artwork for this year – and last.
Each year, visual arts students look forward to publicly showing their work, but the pandemic put a stop to that for last year’s graduates. Seniors like Bowie High School’s Maci Clark and Angel Ochoa had artwork selected for pieces that have not been seen outside their own classrooms.
Not any more. Clark’s playfully stark self-portrait and Ochoa’s eye-catching digital painting of a coy little girl are among the 35 or so pieces of Arlington ISD student work that will be on display for the next four to six weeks. For last year’s graduates, the exhibition delay hasn’t diminished the thrill of seeing their artwork hanging on the wall.
That’s why the exhibit is called “Resilience.”
“Teachers held on to the work with the objective of doing this very show,” said Linh Nguyen, Arlington ISD assistant director of fine arts – visual arts. “We certainly wanted to showcase our seniors this year but it was equally important that we make this special for our seniors from last year who didn’t get a chance to exhibit.
“During the pandemic, these kids overcame. Their perseverance through everything continued with their passion and will to be creative despite what was going on. The beauty of this is that they fought through all the adversity. No better time to do this than on Big Art Day.”
Big Art Day is sponsored by the Texas Art Education Association. A day is set aside to promote awareness for arts education by presenting a particular “art happening” through whatever way a school or district sees fit, from offering art workshops, painting murals, having gallery nights and arts fairs to merely handing out materials in front of museums.
“It can be a show, some kind of community collaboration, art integration at the campus level, anything to do to highlight the art, really,” Nguyen said. “For me, I wanted to have this as our first show, our first opening to highlight these seniors who really went through a rough time. We want to make a statement that through it all, these kids are still doing art.”
“Resilience” is wildly diverse in its styles and approaches; you can find watercolor and charcoal paintings, pencil drawings and metal sculptures, digital art and ceramics. Arlington High’s Noe Mendez has a large, vertical charcoal painting with overlapping male images, of which Nguyen said, “There’s a story there from the artist, but anyone who looks at this piece will probably see a different story, their own story,” he said. “That’s the great thing about art. It can have different interpretations for different people.”
All six Arlington high schools are well represented.
One of the most intriguing pieces – or, rather, four of the most intriguing pieces – is by Lamar seniors Emily Tackett and Bethanne Monroe, whose abstract paintings are made entirely by a dancer’s movements. Tackett directed Monroe to perform specific dance moves on four canvases full of paints of blues and greens and reds. What emerged were four distinct abstracts that can stand on their own but tell an even better story when unified.
“I had an idea for the movement of the piece and the whole basis of the idea was to show movement with the dancer and her feet on the canvas,” said Tackett, a student artist who has been dancing for 15 years. “I just kind of had to tell her my ideas and what I wanted where and when, like a pirouette or turn to make big long motions. It ended up really cool.”
They added other movements for variety in the four pieces, but for the most part, all of them took on a life of their own. Visitors to the gallery will be able to watch a video of the students actually making the artwork.
“It just blew me away – so powerful,” Nguyen said of the abstract work, entitled Rond de Jambe, a classical ballet term describing a movement in which one leg moves in a straight line away from the body before defining a semi-circular motion.
“It’s an amazing collaboration between art and dance that’s the result of just body movement. When people see the finished product out of that, they are going to say, ‘Wow. These are students?”
Nguyen expects the new gallery space to be a game changer for Arlington, especially for elementary-aged students who see a district’s commitment to visual art.
“We teach them the skill set of becoming an artist and give them the opportunity to choose the medium,” Nguyen said. “We’re giving them the pathway to discover that niche and excel at it.”