Making room for art

Center: Park School hopes a $4.1 million arts center will provide the space to nurture future artists and help create a new generation of art patrons.

January 23, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

As a lesson in still-life painting wraps up, a clot of students develops near a drying rack in a classroom that is oh-so-cramped with tables and supplies.

Students, most of them girls, twist awkwardly to avoid smashing into one another or, worse, smearing wet watercolors over a classmate's back.

And so it goes at Park School, a private institution in Brooklandville where an effort to involve 885 students in kindergarten though 12th grade in some form of advanced artistry has resulted in a serious space crunch.

"Right now we are so crowded that we are working with terrible restraints," said Carolyn Sutton, the school's director of arts, who was hired recently as part of a renewed focus on arts education. "We've got a digital imaging class that is being squeezed into an engineering lab. ... Music lessons are taught in faculty lounge spaces."

Relief -- and ample space to sing, dance and act -- is on the way.

A sprawling new arts center -- designed by Baltimore architects Cho Benn Holback + Associates with help from faculty members, parents, alumni and a select group of arts professionals -- is set to open next year.

Those involved hope the $4.1 million center will not only nurture future artists but also a new generation of arts patrons -- adults who will buy season tickets to the symphony and decorate their homes with paintings and sculptures.

It's a goal that sets Park apart from most schools, even other private institutions.

"What we are trying to do is develop the audience of the future," said Louise Mehta, associate head of the school, where tuition ranges from $12,510 to $14,100 a year. "Many artists are worried about whether there will be an audience in the future."

Through regular exposure to and immersion in the arts (the school has an exhibitions educator and a tiny gallery) it's the hope of the Park community that students will get beyond the "that's pretty" stage of art appreciation.

"In any population of creative, motivated, intelligent people there will be some people who want to make their lives in the arts and, for better or for worse, that isn't the majority of us," said Jonathan Rogers, a 1970 graduate and member of the school's Arts Community Advisory Council. "The case for a majority of us is that exposure to the arts is as an appreciator or a consumer, a member of the audience."

Park's odyssey to create the perfect arts space to support the perfect arts curriculum started about two years ago, when administrators and parents invited some of Baltimore's best-known arts professionals -- some with ties to the school -- to help with brainstorming.

"It was honestly an attempt to take advantage of as many community resources and contacts and knowledgeable people as the school could," said Rogers. "When we started to think about what we wanted the arts program to be and what it should include, that was the smartest way to go."

The advisory council roster includes Iantha Tucker, a dance instructor at Morgan State University; John D. Gidwitz, executive director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Peter Culman, former managing director of Center Stage; and Fred Lazarus, president of the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

Early planning sessions focused on identifying the attributes of an arts-literate adult, the structure of a comprehensive arts education and ways to ensure that the arts permeated everyday life on campus. In the end, the group came up with advice that would guide creation of the arts center as well as revision of the arts curriculum.

Observations from artists included: "Tactile, sensual and intense experiences have lasting impact;" "Great art is radical, shocking and changes our way of seeing the world;" and "Charismatic people generate a passion for the arts."

Park School isn't short on artistic enthusiasm.

Last year, the school initiated an arts immersion week in the high school to, in the words of art teacher Bill Mack, "do something intensively artistic and at the same time connect with a broader community."

Last week, students learned to make cameras out of shoe boxes and create a mural. Their teachers were graduate students from Maryland Institute and educators from Towson University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

A goal of arts immersion week is to involve students in creative endeavors they'd never considered before. That's how Azaria Tesfa, 16, ended up in an acting class with Denise Gantt of Center Stage's Theater for a New Generation.

"I've always been interested in the theater," said Tesfa. "It's something my sister got me involved in. She's older than me. But I've never tried out for a play. After this week, I have to say I love it. I think I'll try out for a play next year."

Besides proving fairly easy to organize -- graduate students were eager to earn extra money while getting classroom experience -- the arts immersion week has strengthened the school's drive to create an arts curriculum that is as challenging as those for mathematics, English and science.

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