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Teachers show their work for new art exhibit

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"I Dream of Nature" by Lupita Nava, Bethel Elementary School, is a part of the Rock the Bus exhibit at Emerge Gallery. (Molly Urbina/The Daily Reflector)

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Friday, May 3, 2019

As artists, their influence can be seen in hundreds, even thousands, of paintings, illustrations, sculptures and designs; yet for the most part, their work has remained in the background.

But “Rock the Bus” has become a vehicle of expression for Pitt County Schools visual arts teachers. The annual exhibit, which opens today at Emerge Gallery and Art Center, showcases the creations of 20 art teachers, representing more than a dozen area schools.

“It's a celebration of their created work,”said Jane Austen Behan, arts education programs director for Pitt County Schools. “It gives them the opportunity in the visual art world to showcase their particular talents as working artists themselves.

“That's kind of the inception of the project,” she said. “What would happen if we had this opportunity for our teachers to showcase what they're able to do? … It's a wide variety of talent that we have.”

The exhibit includes painting, printmaking, stained glass, ceramics, metals, papier mache and mixed media on exhibit in both the Don Edwards and Harvey Wooten galleries.

The exhibit, which began more than a decade ago, has in recent years shared gallery space with 3rd Congressional District Art Competition winners. However, that student competition is on hiatus this year while voters seek to elect a representative to fill the seat of former U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., who died in February.

“Rock the Bus” opens tonight with a reception designed to honor 100 arts faculty members who teach music, theater, dance and visual arts in the county's public schools system. Winners are: Ira Varney of South Central High School, first for “Happy Hour,” a wall sculpture created from discarded marker tops; Lupita Nava of Bethel School, second for the painting“I Dream of Nature”; and Michael P. Wells of Grifton School, third for “Portrait of a Model.”

Works, on display through May 30, vary from abstract (Wintergreen's Melissa Harrell with “Bright Color Play” and J.H. Rose High School's D.L. Niece with “Medusa Oblongata”) to figurative (Stokes' Malisa Jessie with “Brighter Days” and Belvoir's Randall Ken with “Groucho Marx the Spot”). Among three-dimensional works are “Footed Vessel” by South Central's Gael Story and a type of “hands vessel,” by Chicod's Kathy Bello. Titled “Trapped,” it depicts fingers emerging from within a vase.

In mixed media, Northwest Elementary School's Blaire Nichols has contributed whimsical papier mache hunting trophies depicting a lion and a giraffe.

“Beyond just what they're teaching, all of these teachers have such amazing talent in their own art-making,” said Holly Garriott, executive director of Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge. “They are incredible artists in their own right.”

Garriott, the daughter of an art teacher, said art educators sometimes focus so intently on their students that they cease to create their own works.

“So much of their emphasis is going into their kids and what they're doing,” she said. “I think that's the hard thing for anybody who works in the arts, not as an artists, whether it's a teacher or administrator, we don't give ourselves permission to do what we do, why we fell in love with it in the first place.”

As an incentive for teachers to persist in pursuing their craft, Wooten, a member of Emerge's board of directors, is making a contribution to the school arts budget of each participating teacher. Winning teachers will receive additional funding for their schools' art programs.

“We need to value our art teachers so much more,” Garriott said. “This is a way we can give back a little bit to help our school system.”

Behan said arts budgets vary among schools in the district, but due to the expense of art materials, there always is a need for funding.

“We have extremely resourceful teachers, and we do a lot with recycled materials,” Behan said.

“Rock the Bus” provides several illustrations of that. South Central's Robyn Barnes created “Wash It Down,” a work shaped like a cocktail glass, entirely from discarded paintbrushes. “Los Desatres de la Clase de Arte,” (translated “art class disasters”) by D.H. Conley High School's David Madigan, features 28 framed twice-repurposed egg cartons that were once used to hold paint.

Behan believes the teachers' show of creativity is simply one more way they can motivate their students.

“That's really the best role model you can have for students for them to actually see their teachers' efforts in the creative spectrum,” she said. “It's just an inspiration.”

Emerge Gallery and Art Center, 404 S. Evans St., will host an opening reception for “Rock the Bus” from 5-8 p.m. today as part of the First Friday Artwalk in the uptown district. The event is free; however, patrons may contribute to a fund designated for Pitt County Schools arts programs. Visit emergegallery.com.

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