In a lot of ways, the lives of students at Kino School revolve around art.
“All they need from me is materials,” said Judy Stewart, who has taught art and humanities at the alternative school for 25 years.
Art created by several Kino students — from sculptures to mixed-media arrangements — will hang in the Tohono Chul Park exhibit house through July 8 as part of a summer-long display featuring works by students from Kino, Green Fields Country Day School and St. Gregory College Preparatory School.
For 13 summers, Tohono Chul has exhibited student art, according to Curator Vicki Donkersley. “I’ve worked with about every district in Tucson.”
This summer, however, represents a first for Kino’s students.
“It’s been an interesting experience,” said Stewart, who let the students choose from their own works what they wanted displayed publicly. “They’re really looking forward to seeing their stuff.”
About 80 students attend Kino School, 6625 N. First Ave., where involvement in the arts is a focal point in education.
Stewart and other teachers at the school manage to weave art into nearly every subject and task, from encouraging high school seniors to incorporate art into yearlong projects, to using math skills in sculpture and woodworking.
“They’ll be working on something, and they’ll see there’s a lot of measurement, there’s a lot of math,” Stewart explained. “There’s a lot of encouragement to do that.”
In the age of standardized, high-stakes testing in schools, many researchers and artists struggle to find a place for arts education in the mix of the classic three “R’s” of reading, writing and arithmetic. Study after study points to arts education as a way to boost student performance in other subject areas, but few provide hard-and-fast data, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Education titled “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development.”
Researchers theorize that arts-rich schools spur greater creativity, attendance, and higher-order thinking skills in students, according to the Education Department report.
But, even if the stats fail to clearly illuminate the link between the arts and student achievement, Tohono Chul Curator Donkersley is willing to go out on the proverbial limb to make that connection.
“Art is not just a frill,” Donkersley said. “This is a different way of learning.”
More importantly, she added, students these days need to acquire a deep sense of the arts and art theory “to really decipher the messages in our visual society.”
Tohono Chul’s annual student art exhibit promotes the importance of arts in education, Donkersley said. “We use our bully pulpit to say that.”
About 1,000 people stream through the park’s exhibit house every month during the summer, the curator said.
And when people walk through the space this month, they can expect to see a variety of student works. They may not even realize, except on closer inspection, that some of the art on the exhibit house’s walls came from the minds and small hands of children.
The park professionally mounts and catalogues each student work, “just like we would for any other artists,” Donkersley said.
It’s that level of professional detail, Stewart said, that her students may appreciate the most.
They will get to see their work in a museum-quality setting. And Tohono Chul Park, to make sure they get that chance to see it, issued free tickets to the students and their families.
“Hopefully, we’re inspiring kids and their families to value art,” Donkersley said. “You never lose that.”
WHAT: “That’s Artrageous: Works by Student Artists,” a summer-long exhibit of works by students from Kino School, Green Fields Country Day School and St. Gregory College Preparatory School
WHERE: Tohono Chul Park, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte
WHEN: Artwork from Kino runs through July 8; Green Fields art runs July 10 through Aug. 12; St. Gregory art runs Aug. 14 through Sept. 9
COST: Free with park admission ($7 for adults, $5 for seniors and active military personnel, $3 for students, $2 for children 5 and younger)