Students and community come together for ANeSU arts festival

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School veritably exploded with color, sound and movement last week during the three-day Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Fine Arts Festival.
“The arts festival gives us a chance to pause and honor the arts and to honor the artist within our students,” said Mandy Chesley-Park, who together with Jennifer Allred coordinated the festival.
The festival brought together visual arts, music, dance and media and included opportunities for students to perform and to have their artwork displayed as well as chances to observe professional artists and do hands-on workshops. It also unites the six ANeSU schools and the larger five-town community, as the doors are thrown wide open for parents and others to come see the art, hear the bands and choruses, and attend guest-artist performances.
Anchoring the annual Arts Festival is the K-12 all-ANeSU art display in the Mount Abe gym, which runs the gamut from kindergartners’ first daubs of tempera paint to a special section where each student in the Advanced Placement Studio Art class are given a solo panel on which to mount the best of the year’s work, complete with an artist’s statement.
“The gym is transformed from a sweaty, squeaky, echoing gymnasium to a gallery — it even feels quiet, there’s a stillness and, even as students are going in, there’s a kind of a reverence,” said Chesley-Park.
Strolling through the gym, the variety of projects, arts media used, styles and subject matter scattered around the room is truly astounding.
In the Lincoln Community School corner, for example, larger-than-life-size colorful self-portraits hang above the bleachers, while nearby giant papier-mâché bees hover above a giant beehive. “I think bees are nice because they make honey but I think they are kind of mean how they sting people,” says one of the students’ statements “flying” alongside the bees. And in a corner, photos of students dressed as famous Impressionist artists are posted beside the students’ paintings in the style of Berthe Morisot, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and others.
Also in the gym, Robinson Elementary School’s display includes mixed-media masks with names like “Snowbird Can Make Snow” and “Day and Night Eagle,” a series of startling and elegant black-and-white prints of flying pigs, lizards, owls and narwhales, and a huge “Bob the Chicken” assembled from mixed media.
Colorful jellyfish hang in the Bristol Elementary School area, next to clay sea creatures in jewel-tone colors. Rows of artwork include everything from public service posters that declare “Firemen Are Your Friends” to a wall of Egyptian masks. A collection of Abenaki name shields flutter from the lobby ceiling with images and names like “Flashing Peregrine Falcon,” “Dancing Girl,” and “Hunting Bobcat.”
In the Beeman Elementary School area, an assorted flock of Vermont birds hang from a birch limb. There are Mexican Day-of-the-Dead prints, cheerful and quirky sewn-felt monsters, painted silk hangings, and collages that juxtapose two fighting bull moose and a warthog or that show an owl whose feathers blend seamlessly into the rough, variegated bark of a tree.
Monkton Central School’s display boasts rows of funny gnomes with peaked red hats, wide-mouthed ceramic monsters and rows and rows of the world’s happiest snowmen collaged from painted paper and overdrawn with pastels.
The MAUHS display has everything from “Warthog Jeans” logos from a graphic arts class to felted animals to ceramic fountains where the water spurts out of a crocodile’s mouth to an intricately inlaid wooden table from a woodshop class to metal-worked scorpions, bees, wasps, cockroaches and butterflies.
While Allred and Chesley-Park said the festival is an opportunity to showcase the incredible students, it also showcases the hard work of the schools’ art teachers.
“You see the teacher behind these students as you look at the work,” Chesley-Park said. “You see the art of teaching in what these students have created. And today when art teachers are often scrambling to work at several schools just to have a full-time position, it is a real moment of celebration and a reminder of the power of art.”
In bringing in professional artists to perform, lead workshops and demonstrate how they work, the festival works to achieve a balance of styles and subject matter from different art forms that will reach youngsters of different ages and interests. For example, Bread and Puppet Theater of Glover on Wednesday performed an avant-garde piece on the 2016 presidential race. Thursday’s performances included the rap group A2VT from Winooski, which brings together young men who immigrated to Vermont from Africa. As they dance, rap and sing — in a mix of English, Swahili, Somali and other African languages — the young men tell what it was like to leave their home countries and make a new home in the United States.
A performance and workshops by master taiko drummer Stuart Paton were a particularly big hit (see story here).
   STUART PATON, ARTISTIC director of Burlington Taiko, works with Bristol Elementary School students during a workshop at the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Spring Fine Arts Festival at Mount Abraham Union High School last Thursday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Artists demonstrating their working methods included both Bridport painter Dustin Dattilio and Bristol media specialist Shawn Kimball.
Dattilio, who graduated from Castleton University in 2014, is an avid hunter who paints primarily wildlife and hunting scenes. His detailed, near-photographic drawings and acrylics feature a whitetail buck, a spotted fawn, a painted bunting, geese, hunting dogs, a bull moose, a detailed portrait of a cow. Dattilio noted that a lot of guys in work boots and camo hats came to watch him work and talk to him, especially young men who are themselves hunters.
“The guys were more engaged because it’s artwork that they don’t typically see around here,” said Dattilio. “Not only could they relate with the subject matter but they could relate with me as a hunter and somebody who enjoys being outside.”
Kimball had a green screen set up in the Mount Abe lobby and was mobbed with kids who got to choose a background that was digitally projected on the screen while they created their own 60-second insta-movies. Two girls chose a giant iguana and gave an impromptu National Geographic presentation. Two boys chose the “Jurassic World” genetically engineered super predator, the Indomenus rex, and snarled at the camera.
The festival also gives student bands and choruses a chance to perform. Tuesday night’s concert brought together students in grades 5 through 8. Students from all five grade schools and the middle school rehearsed as one ensemble during the day on Tuesday and then performed that night. Wednesday night featured a performance by Lincoln Community School. Wednesday and Thursday the MAUHS choral groups performed in the lobby. Thursday night’s concert included the MAUHS Jazz Band, a rock band from Robinson Elementary School called “Wink 116,” and a community-based band called the Ridgerunners.
MAUHS art teacher Bruce Babbitt considered the importance of the arts in students’ lives and students’ learning.
“Creative people and creative thinkers contribute to our culture, our economy and our enjoyment of life,” he said.
Bristol Elementary art teacher Deb Rickner had her own take.
“The arts provide students an opportunity and space to take risks, make difficult decisions, fail, succeed, take criticism, advice and praise,” she said. “Beyond the opportunity to create and use the imagination, the arts teach how to handle life.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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