Josh Harbert, an art student at Ligonier Valley High School, is thrilled a still-life that he painted over Thanksgiving break will be professionally displayed at an upcoming exhibition at the Ligonier Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (SAMA).
“It kind of gives me a sense of assurance about my work,” the 17-year-old senior says.
Harbert’s oil painting of flowers in a vase is one of 25 pieces from Ligonier Valley School District selected for the Artists of the 21st Century student art show. The show features student artwork from 13 Fayette and Westmoreland county schools. It is sponsored by the Sigma Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honorary Organization for Women Educators and the Jack Buncher Foundation.
A reception to celebrate the exhibition will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at the museum, located at Boucher Lane and Route 711 south.
Each participating district is allotted 25 pieces from kindergarten through 12th-grade students. At Ligonier Valley School District, the district’s four art teachers share the challenge of selecting artwork that equally represents the ceramics and 2-D – painting and drawing – programs based on the merit of the work.
“The students spend a lot of personal time in the studio perfecting their craft,” said Linda O’Sullivan, high school art teacher. “To have it picked to be in a museum show is incredibly important to them because it confirms that all their effort and perseverance paid off.”
The work is displayed as it would be for any professional artist, “like we would if we got a Warhol,” said Kristin Miller, education coordinator for SAMA Ligonier.
“People will be very impressed; we hope people will come and see the wonderful work that’s being done by our art teachers,” she said.
For this show and other initiatives, SAMA receives support from various private foundations and funding from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency which distributes grants at local levels for arts and cultural education, Miller said. It’s particularly valuable in Pennsylvania where the number of dollars spent on cultural programs is lower than it is in surrounding states.
According to the nonprofit National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Pennsylvania ranks 27th in the nation in projected per capita funding for state arts agencies with $0.82 per person. Highest-ranked Connecticut is projected at $10 per person.
Part of Miller’s mission is to help school district administrations understand the value of an art curriculum, and that the skills children learn in art class can boost math, reading, fine motor and future work skills like creativity, organization, self-direction and problem solving.
“What they are learning in art class has such impact, and that’s why we need to keep the art program very healthy in the schools,” she said.
In its 25th year, the Artists in the 21st Century program is just one way SAMA enhances art education in districts throughout six counties. Its Artists in Residence grant program provides additional in-depth instruction from professional, fully vetted artists who work collaboratively with classroom teachers on lesson plans on particular art forms, Miller said.
The program is particularly beneficial at Ligonier Valley High School where staffing – and ultimately art class options – has decreased.
“I just had a potter come in and work with my students for 10 days and teach them to work on a potter’s wheel,” O’Sullivan said. “We only had to pay the administrative fee.”
She also invites SAMA artists into her adaptive arts class to conduct workshops that relate to various SAMA art shows the students regularly visit. Many of those students, O’Sullivan said, produce artwork that is competitive to or exceeds that of their peers.
One of those students – with a significant learning disability – consistently creates some of his class’ strongest ceramics pieces. One of the pieces will be in the upcoming exhibition.
“His work is going to be in a museum,” O’Sullivan said. “How special is that for him?”
SAMA will also host receptions for its student art shows Feb. 4 in Altoona and Feb. 18 at its Bedford location. The museum suggests a donation of $1 per person in support of the exhibition. Registration is encouraged but not required at www.sama-art.org/event-list.