On Thursday night, March 3, 2016, Community Arts of Elmira launched its eleventh season of exhibitions with an Opening Reception showcasing three exhibitions of elementary school students in the traditional Community Room and Przygoda galleries–and a college pop-up gallery in the Café. In addition, Community Arts is partnering with Family Reading Partnership of Chemung County, a nonprofit community organization that promotes early literacy. For the length of the exhibition, we ask that visitors donate gently-used books for children through ages eight. (For more information visit http://www.familyreadingpartnership.org)

National Youth Art Month artwork greeted the visitor in the Community Room Gallery, featuring Art Educator Eileen Reib’s students from Diven and Fassett Elementary Schools, Grades K-2, in the Elmira City School District. Reib, a public school art educator for more than twenty years, said the 2- and 3-dimensional pieces on display were inspired by José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Posada, a Mexican printmaker and engraver, was inspired by Mexican culture, a combination of the Aztec culture and the Catholic religion explorers brought from Europe. The National Youth Art Month exhibit included suns drawn onto tin taped into a frame. The tin art represents a Mexican myth that told how five Sun Gods fought for creation, and that the fifth Sun God won, which is why Mexico is sometimes called, “The Land of the Fifth Sun.”

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Reib further explained that The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, happens to fall on the day after Halloween (All Saint’s Day), and it is a celebration of life and death. Unlike American culture, where often people fear death, Mexicans honor it, especially on this occasion, washing the bones of their ancestors, cleaning headstones in cemeteries and celebrating it in a fiesta of life. Posada called this “Poking fun at life and death,” since he believed death was just as important as life and should be embraced. Reib’s students created watercolor paintings of skulls to represent this concept. Their pictures were inspired by skull molds, which are used as decorations for the Day of the Dead. Eileen Reib showed pictures of these skull molds to the students to inspire this artwork. Skull molds are traditionally made by combining sugar and water to make a wet sand mixture, which is then pushed into the skull mold. After making the molds, students decorated them with icing, sequins, feathers and glitter.

Reib’s students also created Retablos, which are traditionally used as hand-held religious altars. As a final way of depicting how Posada pokes fun at life and death, students created skeletons (calacas) performing everyday activities.

Located in Chemung County, Community Arts of Elmira partnered with The Arts Council of the Southern Finger Lakes (The ARTS) with the National Youth Art Month exhibit. The Arts Council serves and advocates for four New York counties (Schuyler, Steuben, Chemung and Tioga), and this is the eleventh annual year The Arts Council has administered National Youth Art Month across the four counties, installing student artwork in over fifty community venues for display throughout the month of March. Exhibiting venues include local grocery stores, cafés, restaurants and other nontraditional places community members wouldn’t expect to see artwork, as well as arts and cultural partners, such as Community Arts of Elmira. We thank Tamar Samuel-Siegel, The ARTS Programs and Outreach Manager, for her installation work on this exhibition.

In complement to the elementary student work in National Youth Art Month, The Arts: At First Sight illuminates the Community Room Gallery with Finn Academy Charter School second grade scholars’ artwork. The exhibition is based on extensive research on the snowy owl and its migration patterns. Arts Educator Brandi Moffe instructed students to draw a snowy owl, and during the process of revision, students improved the rendering of feathers and eyes, and incorporated shading and reflections into their drawings. In their showcase of artistic expression, Finn Kindergarten scholars created red poppies in chalk pastel to honor American veterans, creating and practicing with color palettes until each selected just the right hues for shading their poppies. Prior to their installation at Community Arts of Elmira, Educator Moffe exhibited them at Finn and invited local veterans to view the students’ work.

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In a third process project display, Moffe presents Finn Academy’s second grade scholars’ color wheel studies. By mixing food coloring and shaving cream, students observed an array of colors meld together, learning how colors combine to create new shades. Following this exercise, students participated in an “I notice, I wonder” activity, where they shared what each witnessed about the changing colors.

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To complete the exhibition, Moffe showcased digitized images of Finn scholars engaging in music and dance studies. Students learned movements that emphasize physical activity. These images depict students experimenting with such moves. Moffe, Dance Educator Jaymie Snoddy and Music Educator Danielle Murray share a similar educational philosophy. Murray explained, “Music is a foundation of the culture of Finn Academy.” Together the educators work with the scholars to illustrate that physical activity, music and visual art exist within and beyond Finn, in their everyday lives. For example, each Friday afternoon Finn Academy hosts a “Community Circle” where all visitors are welcome, and audiences are immersed in music played by student scholar musicians.

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Storybook Floor Cloths filled the Pryzgoda Gallery highlighting artistic collaboration by students from Beecher, Diven, Fassett and Hendy, led by School District Art Educator-in-Residence JoAnn Smith, a retired art educator who is still active among local student art projects. Smith explained that all the ideas on the floor cloths originated from the students’ core curriculum, from the second graders who focused on Tall Tales or Fairy Tales, such as Paul Bunyan and John Henry, to the sixth graders whose floor cloths rendered stories from Greek mythology. Joanne used graphing paper to translate the sketch onto the cloth, and then, using painter’s tape in order for colors to stay in between the lines, the students each got a chance to color their grade’s cloth. Students completed one of the cloths in only three weeks! Once painted, students sealed Greek Mythology with Marine Sealer, so it is “walkable.” The remaining cloths are meant for display, because they are not sealed. Finally, a marvelous anecdote about this project is that students who painted cloths as second graders in 2011 worked with JoAnn again as sixth graders!

A special feature of the evening’s reception underscored the continuous study of art for the elementary student: The Elmira College Student Artist Pop-up Gallery Inspiring Artists. Curator Gabrielle Higgins, Community Arts Elmira College Community Service Student, developed the concept for the pop-up’s theme: aspiration. Exhibiting college students’ work inspired elementary students to continue their art study through college and beyond. Campbell Grade, the president of Elmira College Art Club, was among the college students whose artwork was displayed. Nick Vanderwood, a first-year student at Elmira College, was the musical talent for the evening, playing guitar and singing popular hip hop songs. The Inspiring Artists exhibit was a collaborative endeavor with Elmira College Arts Alive program, featuring students in demonstration of their creative life. Elmira College Media Artist Jan Kather is exceptional in her promotion of student art activities. We thank Jan and all members of the Elmira College Creative Arts faculty for their support of this community connection.
Last, but certainly not least, during the artist reception, Community Arts launched this very blog, ArtWays, whose concept and voice I hope to develop profiling the unique artistic, education, community art experiences in the area, connecting real and virtual audiences in support of the arts and arts education.

Currently featured in the Community Arts galleries are Thoughts and Image by Sharon DeHaas, The Przygoda Gallery and Students and Teachers, Selected Work, The Community Room Gallery, through May 21, 2016, Fridays/Saturdays 11am – 1pm, free and open to the public.

Stefanie Hotaling, Elmira College Intern, Class of 2016