Viewing fine arts as electives outside the education mainstream is an obsolete idea in the 21st century, according to Mark Anderson.
Anderson, a multi-faceted artist who moved to the Kenai Peninsula less than a year ago, is spending this month bringing his talents to what he considers the most appropriate audience: children. He is doing an Artists in the Schools residency at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School in Soldotna.
"Have you guys had fun with these?" Anderson asked Mary Beth Verhelst's first-graders on Thursday after a watercolor painting session.
"Yeah!" the children cheered in return.
Anderson encouraged their exuberance, but his message was serious.
"Keep drawing and painting," he told them. "It is a great way to learn about the world."
The 18 children in the class spent an hour engrossed in painting, rendering flowers, monsters, boats, sunsets and several portraits of Harry Potter. They experimented with bleeding the colors together, dry brushes and sprinkling on salt for added texture.
Anderson, in his paint-spattered bib, worked around the room along with the teacher and parent volunteers. He added a painted line here, an encouraging word there.
When the children finished, he held up each picture in turn, pointing out a strength in every one. He praised color, shading and compared one youngster's boat to the work of Matisse.
The children were impres-sed.
"I liked how Mr. Mark Anderson helped me make the face," said 7-year-old Angelica "Jelly" Nolden, working on a portrait of a cat.
She said she enjoys art projects at school and looks forward to more of them.
Anderson started at the school Feb. 6. It is his first experience with the Artists in the Schools program.
He said he moved to Alaska last June and soon heard intriguing things about the program. He had visited classrooms for single days and taught college classes at his previous home in Kansas City and was eager to work more with younger students. Through the Kenai River Council on the Arts he met Celia Anderson, the arts specialist for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. She put him in touch with the program.
The peninsula elementary schools do not have resident art teachers, but rely on Celia Anderson's itinerant instruction and the independent Artists in the Schools.
Artists in Schools is a program of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the Alaska State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional funding for Anderson's residency is provided by the K-Beach Elementary PTA, which raises money to bring in a resident artist each year.
The state council now is soliciting for schools to apply to host artists next year through the program. The deadline for completing applications is April 1.
Anderson emphasized fun and games with the children, but he was quick to point out more practical aspects to the adults involved.
First-grader Tierra Cloud works on her watercolor painting of a rose Thursday. She is student in Mary Beth Verhelst's class. She completed the painting under the direction of Anderson, who praised her picture for its striking colors.
Photo by SHANA LOSHBAUGH
"It is the most important time for art education," he said.
The ascendancy of visual media such as film and Internet in our society makes artistic literacy more important. Technologists alone cannot create systems that deliver information smoothly to people; they must work with artists who understand how to communicate with images, he said.
Anderson bristles at people who consider arts education impractical or optional.
Now visual arts options are broader than they ever have been, he said, and include many lucrative career opportunities. Today's children who pursue art studies will have many doors open for them, he said.
"Opportunity exists. It's out there."
He met with teachers and parents Feb. 20, gave them the same kind of lessons he gives the children and talked to them about inspiring the students to pursue their artistic curiosity.
Elementary children are free of preconceived notions of what things should look like, which gives them great creativity. But they also face difficulties such as mastering fine motor skills.
"How do you make this fun and keep the energy level high?" he said. "You have to set it up so everyone wins from the get-go.
"... It works because I'm having a good time with it."
Anderson is collecting the students' artwork to combine into a mural dubbed "Kids and Colors." He will unveil the mural at a special reception at 7 p.m. Friday, the last day of his residency. The reception and exhibit will be at the Kenai Fine Arts Center at 816 Cook St. in Kenai's old town, where Anderson's own paintings and photographs now are on display through March.
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