CRAFT AS VEHICLE FOR COMMUNITY: THE FACES OF ARROWMONT
In this series we introduce you to some of the faces of Arrowmont: students, instructors, staff, work- study students, volunteers, and donors. We explore the lasting value of the experiences and relationships that are created when individuals step out of their comfort zone and participate in the Arrowmont experience.
TIS THE SEASON FOR ARTREACH: PROVIDING THE ARROWMONT EXPERIENCE TO SEVIER COUNTY SCHOOLS
It’s a cold and rainy Monday morning on the Arrowmont campus, but it will soon be warmed by the laughter and excitement of approximately 75 fourth graders from Pigeon Forge Elementary School. Arrowmont’s five Artists-in-Residence and a few Arrowmont staff wait in the lobby of the Turner building for the big yellow school bus from Sevier County School System to deliver students for a day-trip to participate in ArtReach. As the bus arrives, Arrowmont staff members greet the students as they exit the bus. The students gather together under the awning of the Turner building with excitement as they wait to receive their instructions from Arrowmont Program and Studio Manager, Rebecca Buglio and Educational Outreach Coordinator, Kimberly Mills. The students are divided into groups based on the color of their name tags which will determine their assigned studio. “All of those with gold name tags, follow Everett to the metals studio!” One by one each group follows their instructor to their assigned studio.
“Students are enlightened and turned on here; we open a new world to them.”
Bill Griffith (Arrowmont Assistant/Program Director 1987-2015) launched Rural Outreach, now known as ArtReach, in 1992 as an outgrowth of the Artist-in-Residence program (1991). With only 3 – 4 art teachers in Sevier County at the time, Griffith saw the Artists-in-Residence as a resource to the community to provide art experiences for the schools of Sevier County. As a former high school art teacher, Griffith valued how art experiences expanded the outlook of students, making them well-rounded and appreciative, and providing opportunities for students who were not academically inclined to excel. Griffith said,
“…not everyone is necessarily geared to academics and some of those students are enlightened and turned on here; we open a new world to them. We forget how impressionable and powerful the arts are at that early age. Also it just helps people be well-rounded and appreciative.”
In the early days of the program, Arrowmont went to the schools. The Artists-in-Residence loaded a van with all of their supplies and equipment and took art to the school. As popularity and funding for the program grew, the schools were able to transport students to campus by bus. Bringing the students to campus gave them the opportunity to experience Arrowmont’s professional art studios and equipment in metals, clay, fiber, painting, wood, and printmaking.
Alice Fisher, Gatlinburg Pitman High School Fine Arts Department Chair and art instructor, was on campus recently with some of her high school art students. Now in her 38th year of teaching, Fisher has participated in ArtReach since its inception. Fisher said of ArtReach,
“One of my constant frustrations as a high school art teacher is that I never have enough time to do what I would like to do…Our budget is restricted and limited. Our facilities are not structured for a lot of the things that Arrowmont has entire studios; for instance, for glass, for metals… Coming here provides the students an opportunity to experience things that we just don’t have the opportunity to present to them at GP.”
Now Fisher can count many of her students who have pursued a career path in the visual arts. One of those students is Northview Academy art instructor, Ivy Smelcher, who participated in ArtReach as a high school student at Gatlinburg Pittman High School. Now, Smelcher brings her art students to Arrowmont to participate in ArtReach.
ArtReach provides necessary “anchor experiences” for young students.
Dave Ballentine, English teacher at Phi Beta Phi Elementary School, described trips like ArtReach and theater outings as necessary “anchor experiences” in students’ educational careers. Beyond, testing and academics, providing physical experiences for students in areas such as theater and art make lasting impacts on students because they are experiential. In the current digital age, students seem to have fewer experiential learning opportunities. The ArtReach program helps provide physical art experiences for students.
In her 3rd year as Program and Studio Manager, one component of Rebecca Buglio’s job is to organize, schedule, and coordinate the school trips for ArtReach. I talked with Buglio about the requirements to make ArtReach happen. I learned that Buglio began planning the November and December ArtReach program in June. Growing from 3-4 art teachers in the county in 1992 to 18-24 art teachers today requires advance planning and coordinating. Buglio meets Sevier County art teachers attending teacher in-service meetings. Meeting the teachers in person and observing how the school system functions allows Buglio to learn about school-scheduling, instructor needs, and how Arrowmont can be more supportive. Through this process, Buglio learned that there were art teachers at primary schools in the county who had never been given the opportunity to participate in ArtReach. Art instructor, Jack Boyles at Sevierville Primary was thrilled to bring his 1st – 3rd grade students to ArtReach for the first time this year. Moving forward, Buglio developed a formal rotation schedule to insure equal opportunity and ample planning time for Sevier County School System.
Buglio enjoys organizing the logistics of the program, but with a background in K-12 art education, she delights in witnessing the students’ reactions after their Arrowmont Experience most. Buglio said,
“I see them come off the bus in the morning and then I see them get back on the bus in the afternoon. […] I see the change in both physical appearance but also their reaction verbally to what they learned in our studio at Arrowmont. That is what gives me the most satisfaction.”
“ArtReach humbles us at Arrowmont.”
While ArtReach is an outreach program that Arrowmont provides for the community, I asked Buglio and Griffith how the initiative benefits Arrowmont. Buglio said that ArtReach “humbles” us at Arrowmont. As a school with staff and participants who have backgrounds and interests in art, it is possible to stay in an art bubble. Programs like ArtReach give Arrowmont the opportunity to improve the way we engage people who think differently. Buglio said,
“We are used to people coming in who have done art before. In ArtReach we have students come in who do not like art. The programming is a way for Arrowmont staff and instructors to step back and ask ourselves, okay how do we engage people who do not have a background in art in an art experience. What do you do when you have someone who is not interested in art? Art is more than just making a chair. It really does cross over into math and science. (ArtReach) helps people here take a step back.”
Griffith attested to the sense of community and appreciation that the program creates in Gatlinburg-Sevier County around Arrowmont. Griffith explained that after 26 years of ArtReach, we now have adults in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s who can say, “I participated in ArtReach.” There are siblings that say; “My brother went to ArtReach last year, now I get to go to ArtReach.” Griffith learned in a yoga session a few weeks ago that his instructor’s wife had participated in ArtReach when she was a student. Griffith described how inviting community participation in our mission here at Arrowmont gives the community a sense of ownership of the school. Not because they read about it, but because they participated in it. We believe that it is because of the opportunities that Arrowmont creates for community involvement that the community was so supportive in making it possible for Arrowmont to stay in the Gatlinburg community when Arrowmont had to purchase its campus in 2014.
After 26 years of ArtReach, we now have adults in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s who can say, “I participated in ArtReach.”
Through these conversations and through witnessing the reactions of students as a former ArtReach instructor, I am reminded of the basic human desire to be included. People feel included in a program or organization when they have the opportunity to participate themselves. Inclusion yields ownership, and ownership yields loyalty and support. This is Arrowmont’s mission – to provide a sense of community and involvement for all of those who engage with it through arts education for all. At Arrowmont we are thankful for the involvement that the Sevier County School system and community has with our school. We look forward to seeing you on campus again soon!
To expand Arrowmont’s initiative to provide arts education to K-12 students today, Arrowmont will take ArtReach back on the road as it first began to schools, school districts, and arts organizations across Central Appalachia. ArtReach on the Road is designed to help modern students in Central Appalachia learn about and appreciate their culture and the importance of craft in their daily lives. It also addresses the preservation of traditional craft knowledge — knowledge that is disappearing as the region becomes urbanized and practitioners often do not transmit their skills to future generations.
Stay tuned for a blog on ArtReach on the Road in February after I talk with Educational Outreach Coordinator, Kimberly Mills when she returns from her first ArtReach on the Road experience in Campbell County, TN.
To learn more about ArtReach and ArtReach on the Road, visit https://www.arrowmont.org/appalachian-craft/artreach