Students seek collaboration in ‘Modern Folklore’

Students seek collaboration in ‘Modern Folklore’


Special to The Free Weekly

Storytelling has taken many forms as it has traveled through thousands of years of human history. Civilizations have told the story of humanity on stone tablets, scrolls of parchment, bound volumes of paper, and digital impressions created entirely by electrical currents. Although formats have changed, and will continue to change, non-written communication remains an enduring medium in which we keep the human spirit alive. From the earliest cave paintings to modern murals and “graffiti,” art remains as a testament to the enduring power of expressive storytelling.

As a continuation of this journey, art students of Fayetteville and Springdale high schools recently completed an exhibit titled “Modern Folklore,” which has been on display at the Art Ventures gallery through the month of November. This project, as part of the Art Ventures K-12 Gallery Initiative in conjunction with the University of Arkansas School of Art, gave students an opportunity to work together outside their usual social and geographic structures in an effort to create a diversely cohesive visual show for display in a professional gallery setting.

The Gallery Initiative came to fruition after years of talks between Sharon Killian, Board president of Art Ventures, and Angela LaPorte, head of art education at the University of Arkansas School of Art. Its first feature exhibit was a project initiated by Cathy Von Hatten, who taught art at Root Elementary in Fayetteville until her retirement in 2018.

“When the hurricanes damaged Texas and Florida in 2017, my fourth-grade students wanted to create art as part of a fundraiser for the victims of the hurricanes,” Von Hatten remembers.

Von Hatten approached Killian about letting her students display the exhibit at the Art Ventures gallery on the downtown Fayetteville square.

“She enthusiastically agreed,” continues Von Hatten, “and so we sold the student artworks under title of ‘4Relief.’ We were able to send the Red Cross $625 with this exhibit.”

The success of this first exhibition was a testament to the hard work of leadership in creating a plan that was intrinsically designed for the success of future Gallery Initiative exhibits, as evidenced by its most recent showing, “Modern Folklore.”

“My involvement in the Art Ventures K-12 Gallery Initiative proposed by Sharon Killian began in 2019 when Cathy Von Hatten, my former student and Fayetteville art teacher, contacted me to discuss details of the initiative and its ability to fund art education students’ work with K-12 participants,” says LaPorte.

LaPorte identified two exceptional art education students, Justin Gall and Amy Kappen, who would be beginning their student internships in the fall 2019 semester. Gall would be at Fayetteville High School under the mentorship of teacher Diane Stinebaugh, and Kappen would be at Springdale High School under the mentorship of teacher Whitney Bell.

LaPorte was instrumental in securing funding for classroom art materials, and Art Ventures gallery provided funding for professional photography and video production of the exhibit by Kai Drachenberg.

In September, the teachers presented a detailed collaborative lesson plan for the art students of both schools. Under the thematic umbrella of “Modern Folklore,” art students from Fayetteville High told their stories through sculpture. Throughout the process, images of these creations were shared with art students at Springdale High, who used the sculptural storytelling to create their own stylistic responses through painting.

“It involved conveying an idea or story in an original artwork and then interpreting someone else’s art in a second piece,” says Von Hatten. “These students from the two high schools were working remotely with each other’s ideas, whereas historically they have usually been rivals on sports teams. How refreshing and terribly needed at this time!”

For Killian, giving children the opportunity to find expression through art is personal.

“I have been thinking art for all my life, and making, exhibiting and attracting art buyers since I was 13 years old,” says Killian. “The K-12 Gallery Initiative is a key to improving quality of life through art. Giving children the opportunity to experience the transformative nature of art carries throughout their lives into whatever community they build. This is a powerful message that each individual carries that can change our world.”

Students, either as individuals or groups, spent much of the semester devoting exhaustive hours to completing their assignments for the project. For many of the students, this meant devoting dedicated time outside scheduled school hours to ensure successful completion of an exhibit suitable for display in a professional art gallery. The collaborative nature of the project meant the students worked to create a cohesive exhibit from a diverse array of perspectives and backgrounds.

“Students got to see how diverse their generation’s culture is and how others are struggling with the same concerns and ideals,” says Justin Gall, student teacher at Fayetteville High School.

The culmination of months of hard work was validated for the students as their “Modern Folklore” exhibit was included in “Folklores and Odysseys” through November at Art Ventures. The students were able to attend a private reception on Nov. 13, seeing their work in a professional art setting — most for the first time.

“Seeing students shake hands and converse about their work was inspiring,” says Springdale art teacher Whitney Bell. “Even though they are growing up in different neighborhoods, they were connected through art … one of the best things about art is connecting people and forming an accepting community.”

“These children are the community,” adds Killian. “They shape its development and point of view for generations to come. They bring their parents, siblings, extended families and friends to their perspective and make a statement about their own potential to advance their community.”

For this group of students, the experience gained from this project allowed them to see their own individual stories as part of a community tapestry. For these students, their contributions to humanity’s story have begun, and their imprint on history’s unbroken line of visual storytelling has made its mark.

Categories: Cover Story