Students show creative side in districtwide exhibit

For the month of April, students from all grades in the Stonington public school system will be displaying works they created in their school art classes at the Hoxie Gallery at the Westerly Public Library.

For the library, the opportunity to showcase local student works is a way to both fill a community space and a community need.

"It's very unique that our library has a gallery in it," said Rachel Doyle, administrative services manager at the library, who says few other local libraries have space similar to the 945-square-foot gallery. "I wanted something that the kids can embrace and be proud of. They can display their work here and express themselves."

For the first time since renovations were completed at the library, the gallery is being used to display students' work.

The "All Student Art Show" runs through the end of April. The exhibit features paintings, drawings, pottery, sculpture, videos, photography, mixed media, book designs, and graphic design by elementary, middle and high school students.

Doyle sees the show as an opportunity to bring students, especially older students, back into the library.

"The children's room is very active at the grade school (age), but there's a point where we kind of lose the kids for a few years during the teen years. We're hoping that showing their work here will bring them in for other things," said Doyle. "This is the beginning of us focusing more on the whole tween and teen group - what their needs are and how we can better serve those needs."

A similar effort to meet the needs of students has lead to a restructuring of the Stonington High School art program during the past two years. The program now includes higher level courses in graphic design and cartooning, as well as advanced Placement and Early College Experience classes, which can be taken for college credit. For these courses, art teacher Teresa Bonillo, one of two art teachers in the department, obtained certification as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut.

Students coming up in the Stonington public school art program are not new to the idea of having their art displayed at a gallery. Students in Bonillo's early college experience drawing class have displayed their works at the Mystic Art Center, Slater Museum in Norwich and at the Mystic Art Show.

Elias Sandlin and Gabrielle Soscia are sophomores in Bonillo's advanced level drawing class. Both took studio art as a freshman elective course and received recommendations from Bonillo to continue in their sophomore year.

In a school where marketing and business classes can take the place of required art classes, the students chose to continue with traditional art, which they say are among their favorite classes.

"I feel like I learned a lot this year," said Soscia."There are so many art classes, I feel like I don't have enough (time) to take all the ones I want."

"Studio was a good way to experiment. Drawing is a good way to elaborate on that," added Sandlin, who plans to study film in college and wishes there were film courses available to him at the high school.

Bonillo, who completed an art and technology program at Connecticut College in 2000, would like to see the department expand further to include more technology focused courses and educational techniques to help students learn.

"Technology can offer more engaging ways (of learning) because students faces are in their technology all the time," said Bonillo. "I'm trying to get that to work for me instead of against me."

This incorporation of technology sets the Stonington art program apart, according to Doyle, who said the recent Westerly High School exhibit did not incorporate multimedia art in the way Stonington has.

"That aspect is very unique. It's really great because it incorporates where libraries are going and schools are going into the world of technology. It's a really nice collaboration" she said.

While Bonillo admits that students access to artistic technologies, such as the Adobe Creative Suite already being used in graphic design classes, bring the high school's art program to the next level. What she finds most important for students to learn is still the foundational elements of art.

"I'm trying to move cartooning into animation, I've got a smartboard, but I still believe they need the foundation courses," she said. "The first thing I ask a new class is what they want to learn, and they still just want to make something look real."

Fundamental knowledge of composition, balance, and other artistic foundations are learned skills that are necessary tools for students to learn in order to progress with their art, but they are elements that come into play in other aspects of a student's life outside of the art classroom, Bonillo said.

Students in her classes are "building a strong foundation, (so if) they go off in the business world and they have to make a powerpoint, at least they'll have some color sense and design sense," said Bonillo.

Bonillo believes the patience and creativity students practice in art classes can be applied to any student's future, whether it's in the art world, business world or elsewhere.

"It's not just about teaching art. They get an idea and they try to work it through, and a lot of times they fail, and it's about getting them over the hump of failing," she said. "They improvise. It's the process of getting an idea, trying it out, failing and still pushing through."

J.HOPPER@THEDAY.COM

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