Area school children enjoy field trips at the Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery, left, and the new, 16-ton outdoor sculpture, “Progression,” installed last fall in front of Fenton Hall.
Internationally recognized sculptor Albert Paley, whose works are on permanent display in major museums in the U.S. and Europe, isn’t a stranger to middle or high school students from Fredonia or Brocton.
Nor is the thrill of a live production of “The Lightning Thief,” based on the popular Percy Jackson series, an unknown experience to hundreds of area children.
Both are prime examples of outreach initiatives in the visual arts and theatre that the university hosts annually for decidedly younger audiences on what may be, for some, their first visit to campus.
For decades, the Michael C. Rockefeller Arts Center (RAC) has sponsored a series of field trips for public and private elementary schools. More recently, the Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery has reached out to schools, designed full days of activities, and invited art majors to participate. Students in secondary grades experience the arts through exhibit and sculpture tours, and engage in hands-on projects; K-6 students watch live plays on stage.
Gallery Director Barbara Räcker discusses elements of art, principles of design, materials and processes. She also designs related hands-on projects, introduces career opportunities that museums offer, explains what curators do, and gives tours of Fredonia’s outdoor sculptures.
Students saw Paley’s “Humanizing the Material” exhibition and viewed a slide show depicting the complex installation of “Progression,” a 16-ton sculpture placed near Fenton Hall last fall. Visits to visual arts studios and classrooms are included on tours, as is the annual Senior Show, in which seniors talk about their art.
Sculpture major Nick Gates led workshops that gave students opportunities to experience and experiment with maquette building, using chipboard, foamcore, cardstock and glue to make small-scale sculpture models similar to what Paley does before commencing a major project.
“For these workshops, we really wanted students to be able to get a feel for formal art, which is art that focuses on form, or how something looks, and less about what it means or represents,” Mr. Gates explained.
Students enjoyed creating sculptures, added Gates, who aspires to teach sculpture at the university level.
Fredonia Middle School Teacher Sheila Cannon said students see the thought process artists use when approaching a new project, experience different styles of art and can freely talk about it.
“They are learning socially how to experience art and how to behave in that situation,” added Ms. Cannon, who also advises the middle school’s art club. “They are being exposed to college long before they are planning to go or not go. I hope this will steer them to want to go for art!”
Last spring, Fredonia, Brocton and Silver Creek students assisted Steven Siegel in the creation of “Fredonia Suitcase” out of plywood, crushed plastic bottles, snow fencing and rubber hose. Three seniors — Marisa Bruno (Painting), Robert Sader (Photography) and Jason Saville (Animation and Illustration) — discussed their art with Brocton students.
For over 40 years, RAC has sponsored “On Stage For Youth,” a performing arts series for elementary students that brings professional touring companies to Marvel Theatre or King Concert Hall.
“It has always been part of our belief that young people should be exposed to high quality theatre and musical events, in a professional setting,” said RAC Director Jefferson Westwood. “We believe these productions can help spark a lifelong interest in the arts, and many of the students attending Fredonia as undergraduates today made their first visit to campus for one of these shows.”
Musicals tend to be more popular with students and their teachers, Westwood noted.
“Kids also like shows with action, rather than a lot of talking, so if there is a pratfall or two, it usually gets a good response,”
Though touring companies use Equity performers, Fredonia students are involved, serving as stage hands, house managers, greeters for school groups and supervisors of volunteer ushers.
More than 56,000 school children from Chautauqua County have attended 172 performances at RAC in the last decade, and 4,500 are expected this season.