Art is practical and necessary not only for the development of the brain, but in everyone’s life. Art touches everything — an artist designed the appearance of the chairs we sit in, the bottles we buy and the glasses we pour our water into.
During the pandemic, schools from coast to coast that had neglected their art programs in the past were working hard to include it in their virtual learning plans. Why? Because arts is integral to the social, civic and mental health of children and concern was raised by parents and educators about the mental toll the pandemic shutdown could cause in children. According to EdSource, a nonprofit organization reporting on key education challenges, educators and artists championed mandates to restore arts and music education to public and private schools, as a way to help a “generation COVID-19 grapple with their feelings about growing up in a time of tragedy.”
The Texas Commission on the Arts offers a program sending high-quality artists to schools throughout the state providing performances, workshops and residencies. These artists offer programs specifically designed to work with the school curriculums.
In Chaves County, the Roswell Independent School District already has a successful plan in place at the Creative Learning Center. It does not depend on artists visiting sporadically — instead, it is a local program. The center’s 12 educators travel to all elementary schools each week to bring visual and performing arts lessons to all K-5 students. The program is Arts Connect. For those who are not familiar with the program, it is due to Max Coll, who sponsored the Fine Arts Education Act. Coll served a total of 32 years in the New Mexico House of Representatives and died March 27, 2014. When he passed the Fine Arts Education Act in 2003, the bill established and funded art, music, dance and drama in grade schools. As a result, Roswell artist and educator Elaine Wiggins-Howe started the Arts Connect initiative, which is today RISD’s Creative Learning Center.
RISD, private schools and homeschooled children find support in the community. Following are some samples of the opportunities children have who are interested in art.
Many of the visiting artists who are fellows of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program are art educators and volunteer their time talking to the children at school or during the programs of the Roswell Museum and other organizations.
The Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Museum opens its doors to educate children not only about the history of the region, but also about art and architecture. Asked how many classes visit the museum, its Executive Director, Amy McVay Tellez, said, “As far as 4th graders almost every school in Roswell. Private, Gateway, All Saints, we even had home schoolers and we have done Immanuel Lutheran. In middle schools and high schools, we have partnered with history clubs. We always welcome that. Kim Wiggins (a local artist) and others have done presentations next door (in the society’s archive building). We are always open to additional opportunities.”
One of those opportunities is working with children of the KAPS (Kids’ Arts Programs) of Roswell Community Little Theatre. These children are learning to become actors and are planning, on Sept. 17, to reenact famous Roswell citizens at the society’s event, “The Living Museum: Local Legends.”
One of RISD’s high school’s principals, Mario Zuniga at Goddard High School, has a son who is an artist. He said in a phone interview that his son recently had an exhibit in Albuquerque. Zuniga grew up with the arts as well. “I graduated high school 40 years ago in 1982. In a little place called Reserve, New Mexico, and my mother had five boys. I’m the oldest, and she made all of us go to band. And we all played an instrument during high school. I always wanted to play piano, but I wasn’t good at it. But my fourth brother is a band teacher in a big high school in Fairfax (High School) in Phoenix, Arizona. He was a pianist, he is a good musician.”
Asked about arts in school, Zuniga said, “Art is very important, it activates the right brain, which is the creative imagination. As our band teacher says, Mr. Everitt, he talks about how art makes us human. That’s why creativity is so important along with the arts, it is something that keeps us engaged and keeps us human.”
Asked what he would like to include or build up if he had all the funds necessary, Zuniga said, “Other schools have dance, a full-time orchestra program — expanding it to all forms of art. We have the digital pieces, we have publishing, the traditional art, painting. But just incorporating everything.”
Candace Cantu is in a unique position being a teacher and the mother of three. Two of her children are attending local public schools. This is Cantu’s second year as media arts instructor at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. In a phone interview, Cantu talked about the programs available for high school students and art.
“I do have such a wide range of students from high school all the way, I want to say, 50/60 years old,” she said. “I have dual-credit classes available. They don’t have to have their high school diploma yet, they can take classes while they are in high school. I have an instructor at Goddard that teaches a few classes for dual credit that feeds into our program. I also teach students from several different high schools in Roswell, some in person, some online. I have a lot of high school students, on average at least 50% of my classes are high school.
“We are such a large, growing industry, the world is all online now, this is where the future is heading,” Cantu said.
According to Cantu there are two programs available under the umbrella of media arts. One of those is graphic design, the other film technology.
“In the graphic design department we have an associate degree route or certificate, and then for the film technology we also have a certificate or associate degree available,” she said.
Asked about the importance of early art education, Cantu said, “It is so important. We go over basic skills such as lines and color pallet and symmetry. Stuff that we hope is learned in school before. It is so important to have a well-rounded understanding in general, and we also do a lot of research in art and where graphic design started from. And really, that was before advanced technology was around. Our program coincides with some of our art classes on campus, so in the degree plan they have to take one or two art classes as well.
“There are so many open positions for graphic designers and careers in the film industry, it’s really booming,” Cantu said. “There is definitely a need and really, Roswell has a need. We’re looking at different businesses and they’ve reached out for advertising, branding and things they didn’t even know they needed in this ever-growing, changing world. There are so many remote positions that they (the students) don’t even have to leave Roswell if they don’t want to. We have so many opportunities that we didn’t even know before.”
Local business owner Dene Van Winkle is a living example of how art is directly connected to one’s livelihood. The mother of two and grandmother of four owns Imagine That, specializing in scrapbooks and gifts. In a Facebook message Van Winkle wrote, “All four of my grandchildren started school at the age of three in the pre-K program. I personally believe that arts are very important in the development of children. The earlier they are involved I think the better it is.
“I had my children involved in art when they were very young, and I believe they are very successful adults today. There is vast evidence showing that children in the arts are much more academically advanced, especially in math reading and writing. There is vast evidence and research that shows arts improve children academically and behavioral,” she wrote.
Van Winkle wrote that as a little girl she loved making scrapbooks. “I’ve always loved art. Today, I own my own craft store — proud to say going on 18 years,” she wrote.
Tara Lara is the mother of four children, ages 18, 17, 14 and 12. Lara is also a teacher. “I know the benefits of art from the teaching aspect and the parenting aspect. As I watch my students learn and grow, as 4-year-olds, is phenomenal. The growth of their fine motor skills, creativity, fine tuning the ability to use scissors — just amazing.
“My children have attended both private and public schools here in Roswell. They have been lucky to have art in their curriculum. I love what I have seen them learn, their artistic and drama capabilities. I do believe that children who participate in arts in school would be more successful. It helps with motor skills, social skills, decision making and risk taking. All that can be used in different areas of life. Whether it may be hands-on art, making decisions on what colors mix and blend well as well as dimensions. The drama arts, that makes children come out of their shell and have confidence on a stage. I love the broad range of things they learned in their private school experience and have noticed wonderful benefits from it.
Of the private schools contacted in Roswell, Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt of Immanuel Lutheran School responded to share his view of the arts in school. In an email he wrote, “At Immanuel Lutheran School, a Christian and classical school, we rejoice to surround ourselves with what is true, beautiful and abiding. Art is never neutral. In chapel, every day, we sing and hear the timeless poetry and sublime music of the Christian Church in hymns that comfort every soul. Sing the ‘Te Deum’ or the 17th century hymn ‘Jesus, Priceless Treasure,’ and you’ll know what I mean. At lunch, every day, we pray in English and in Latin, teaching our bodies to receive their daily bread with thanksgiving. We learn how to learn and rejoice to do so. We read, every day, from the best of Western civilization, learning from Dickens, Kipling and Tolkien — to name only a few of the more recent ones. And we haven’t even had an art class yet.”
Holt wrote that the school’s art classes include more than crafts. “We want our students to see and be humbled by the beauty of the great works of art, those of Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Audubon. We want our students to learn from them, to grow in knowledge and appreciation of what has come before them, and then — standing on their shoulders — to make their own contribution. You can’t do this without high expectations, so we strive toward the lofty goals of those who’ve come before us.”
Next to the schools and organizations mentioned, the Roswell Symphony Orchestra provides opportunities for up to 800 fourth-grade students to hear a concert from composers and for many, it is their first encounter with classical music. High school students have another unique opportunity, the best musicians are selected to shadow the orchestra’s musicians and not only learn from them, but actually perform in a concert.
This is just a glimpse into the various arts education programs available in the area.