News Column

Art education has a new home at Williamsburg Christian Academy

July 15, 2014

By Christine Sampson, The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg

July 15--JAMES CITY -- When Williamsburg Christian Academy students return to school in August, they will find art and art history are no longer confined to a classroom.

Those concepts will spill out into a newly created Student Art Gallery, complete with items on loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and works donated to the school by professional artists and private collectors.

The space has taken shape in what used to be an under-used second-story hallway with plain white walls. Now it is adorned with paintings, prints, carvings and textiles, all mounted and awaiting the students' return.

A series of American contemporary color studies, a red floral Japanese kimono and obi, wooden carvings from Russia, and depictions of Thai and Indian wedding ceremonies are just a few of the pieces, representing art of international origins, that students will be able to study and enjoy.

Dianna M. Lindsay, head of WCA's high school, said the space has undergone a transformation from an "ugly and nondescript" area once used as storage to a vibrant place for learning.

"The art gallery is a functioning teaching space," she said. "Its main purpose is to teach around the big ideas."

Those ideas include not just the art techniques and history, but also how art is commissioned, procured and curated and what it means to be a patron, Lindsay said.

Faculty members and families completed the actual physical work of building the components of the gallery, painting the walls and hanging art. Placards identifying each work have been hung in such a fashion that even young students can easily read them.

In the next phase of the gallery's development, Lindsay said, screens will be added to run slide shows of famous works of art and student-produced pieces. One screen is planned at each end of the hallway, with the art space in between representing a journey between the two. WCA will also hold events such as artist talks, parent education sessions and an opening reception. There are spaces for displaying student work, too.

"When we display (their) work with the best, it says to our kids, 'We value your work,'" Lindsay said.

The material on loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts comes from the museum's statewide partnership program with schools, community organizations and other museum centers.

Jeffrey Allison, manager of statewide programs and exhibitions at the VMFA, called Williamsburg Christian "a fantastic statewide partner" that stands out among more than 200 schools within the educational components of its program. Through that partnership, schools actually borrow items from within the museum's educational collection, consisting largely of high-quality physical reproductions of key pieces housed at the museum. Each month will bring a new set of items to WCA from the museum.

"The wonderful thing about the folks (at WCA) is how dedicated they have been to really forward planning and creating almost like a curriculum that goes along with the materials they're getting," Allison said. "They put their time and energy into it and really created something valuable for the students that makes great use of what we have."

Title I of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 identifies the arts as a "core academic subject" alongside math, language arts, history, foreign languages and more. According to a 2006 report titled "Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement," and produced by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the Arts Education Partnership, the arts are a key component of a well-rounded education. The report cites studies that "document the habits of mind, social competencies and personal dispositions inherent to arts learning."

"Additionally, research has shown that what students learn in the arts may help them to master other subjects, such as reading, math or social studies," the report continues.

The debut of WCA's art gallery coincides with the launch of the school's new Advanced Placement art history class, which Lindsay will teach. The class has attracted 25 juniors and seniors, who have some hefty summer reading to do from a college-level textbook, "Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History."

There's also a social media aspect. The class will require students to use Twitter to follow museums across the world, and will teach them how to evaluate art and understand the language used to discuss it.

Lindsay called the class "30,000 years of art in eight months."

"They'll start to see that the world is passionate about art," she explained, describing it as an extremely difficult and sophisticated class.

She added: "I want kids to fall in love and see things they never would have seen before."

The new gallery will accomplish that, too, Lindsay said.

"It's a teaching space, a space for patronage, a place for our permanent collection and general art appreciation."

More: Follow @WCASAG on Twitter to keep up-to-date on WCA's Student Art Gallery.

Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.


(c)2014 The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.)

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Source: Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg)

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