Hallmark Card’s late Gordon MacKenzie would walk into a class of kindergarten and first graders, look at the artwork on the walls, and ask, “How many artists are in the room?”  Every hand would go up.  By second grade three-fourth of the kids raised their hands, by third only a few and by sixth grade, not a single hand went up.  

Thanks to the District’s support of arts education and the work of gifted and inspiring visual arts teachers in the Allegheny-Clarion Valley Schools – Jessica Nimelli (K-6) and Anita Allen (7-12), student hands would go up not only throughout the elementary grades but also in Junior/Senior High School AND in vocational training classes.    

Yes, the visual arts are flourishing in the A-C Valley Schools and you can see for yourself the exceptional artwork of 100 A-C Valley students in Anita Allen’s classes from Grades 7 – 12 (including Vo-Tech) in an exhibition at the Red Brick Gallery in Foxburg, sponsored by Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts, on Saturdays and Sundays, April 8-9 and 15-16.  The exhibit will showcase their achievements in three-dimensional art – ceramics and pottery – as well as watercolors, acrylic, charcoal, and pastels.

Why is ARCA celebrating the excellence of student artwork and bringing it to the attention of the community?  It has everything to do with jobs and the economic vitality of our region. According to Daniel Pink in “A Whole New Mind”, with a job economy devastated by automation and blue and white collar jobs sent overseas, “Everyone, regardless of profession, must cultivate an artistic sensibility… today we must all be designers”.   

Visual-arts training is an invaluable career resource for A-C Valley students graduating into the “Gig Economy”, a new labor market characterized by short-term contracts and freelance work as opposed to the permanent jobs, company loyalty and gold watch after 30 years promised to Baby Boomers.  

Employment as “entrepreneurs” will soon represent 50% of the workforce and many will be working from their computer at home.  For local students who don’t want to leave the area, hopefully it could mean they could create businesses in e-commerce, which would allow them to live in the beautiful Allegheny-Clarion River Valley.   For them, designing their products, website and marketing materials would be routine.   

While it’s easy to dismiss design as merely ornamental, if you look up from this newspaper and look around the room, everything around you has been designed.  And some have been designed in an environment exactly like that of an art class where student’s creativity, freedom and autonomy are encouraged.  The indispensible “Post-Its” that we slap on the fridge with our grocery list were created at the 3-M company in the 15% discretionary time given to employees to do anything they wished as “experimental doodling”.    

These kinds of skills are as far away from answering multiple-choice tests as is vocational training – which may be why A-C Valley Vo-Tech students are taking art class, creating wonderful wildlife paintings.  It’s about making things – self reliance – visualizing outcomes before making them happen – and making things attractive and aesthetically pleasing.  

Superintendent of the A-C Valley School District, David McDeavitt said, “It makes me very happy to have a local organization such as ARCA helping to support our educational system.  Opportunities like the Red Brick Gallery provide our students with learning opportunities that extend past the classroom and into the community.  One of our goals at A-C Valley is to develop our students into productive members of society and this program does just that!”

This is the third exhibit of A-C Valley student art at the Gallery.   Red Brick Artistic Director, Donna Edmonds said, “As many will recall, the Gallery opened its 2015 season for the first time with an A-C Valley Student exhibit.  I didn’t know what to expect, but it was phenomenal.  The work was vibrant and explosive! And many people in the community were introduced to the Red Brick Gallery by the lure of viewing the art of a student known to them.  We encourage everyone to take a few minutes to drop by to support the students.  It’s a great experience that leaves everyone with a sense of awe for the freshness and talent of these young artists. “

A-C Valley art teacher Anita Allen said “Students have been working on their art for this exhibit throughout the year. It’s amazing to witness their creative process in the various media in which they have worked.  I am grateful that ARCA is exhibiting their art in the Red Brick Gallery again this Spring.  It’s important for the students to see their artwork displayed publicly.  Our community, without a doubt, will get a true idea of the artistic skills our kids have when they see the quality and creativity of this exhibit.” 

What a wonderful way to be grateful and take pride in our community on Palm Sunday and Easter weekends – walking through this exhibit of local students’ art at the Red Brick Gallery and Gift Shop, 17 Main Street, Foxburg, PA 16036.   A Meet the Students reception will take place on Saturday, April 8 from 11 AM to 5 PM.    The Exhibit is open Saturday and Sunday, April 8 – 9, and April 15 – 16.   Gallery Hours are:  Saturdays 11:00–7:00, Sundays 12:00–4:00 PM. www.alleghenyriverstone.org

Find more places to view local art in the PA Great Outdoors region online at VisitPAGO.com or (814) 849-5197 for more information.

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