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The arts are not a luxury

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John Overby
Sun Staff Writer

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It’s 3:30 p.m. The parking lot is noticeably bare. Inside of the building, there is silence with the exception of the muffled sounds of a volleyball practice behind closed doors.

And the hallway is empty.

That is, it is empty until you reach the end, where a handful of art students are still hard at work.

WCHS let out a half hour ago, but there is sophomore Thomas Graves painting a hallway wall white so a mural of his design can adorn it within the month.

Fellow sophomore Cody Black does the same to the door, only with black paint.

Take a look inside the art room, and you will see freshman Erin Taylor sitting on one end of the table, putting the final touches on one of her pieces. On the other end, sophomores Mac Stevens and Jude Martinez do the same to theirs.

Marilyn Peters, art teacher and humanities department head, surveys the work like a foreman on a construction site, not overbearing but helpful when needed.

For her, the day is not over until the students are done.

“I don’t think of this as an art class. It’s an art program,” she said. “That means it’s not an 8 (a.m.) to 3 (p.m.) job. It’s an 8 to whenever job. If a student is willing to stay after school to learn, then I’m willing to stay after to teach them.”

Peters has been teaching art at WCHS for 14 years now. Her goal from the time she took over the program was to make it more active, something that was functioning “from the beginning of the school year to the end.”

“We didn’t compete a lot, and we didn’t do a whole lot of exhibits for the community when I first got here,” Peters said. “Now we are competing against a ton of other schools and have a lot of students who have been very successful in several competitions throughout the school year. We also have students who exhibit their work in the community, in the region and throughout the state.”

Peters believes that these types of experiences will help the students develop as artists, as well as help the program grow.

And recently, that emphasis has paid off. Stevens and Martinez both placed in the Congressional Art Competition in Brett Guthrie’s district, with Stevens placing third and Martinez grabbing an honorable mention.

As a result, their artwork is currently on display in Guthrie’s office in Elizabethtown.

Stevens, whose piece centered around Psalm 139:14, called the experience “wonderful.”

“It was very rewarding,” Stevens said. “It’s such a great honor.”

In addition, Peters was also notified by Artsonia, an international online art gallery that WC participates in, that a veteran’s group called Family Shield had seen the program’s work and wanted the rights to reproduce a set of notecards with one of its graduate’s, Jean’na Lewis, design on it.

This was only the third time in Artsonia’s history that a group had contacted them for the rights to use a student’s artwork.

The means by which to make these competitions and extracurricular activities happen can be scarce at times, though, with a small budget from year to year. Peters knows that she and her students have full moral support of the school, and she also understands that the lack of funds is “a pure economics thing.”

“(The school board) wishes they could support programs like us,” Peters said. “They really do. They’ve really worked with us the best they can.”

Martinez, whose grandfather worked on designing packets for candy products like Chiclets and Bubblelicious, called the WCHS art program “a very free experience.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Martinez said. “You have to learn the basics in the lower classes, but once you get in the upper classes, there are very few specific projects. That works really well for how I like to work.”

Stevens added that it is “good for the creator.”

But for Peters, the best way to describe it is as “organized chaos.”

“If someone outside of the program came in (her classroom), they’d think it was a big mess,” Peters said. “That may be true, but everything is where it is at for a reason. Everything is very structured, from the layout of the room to how I teach my classes.”

Success can sometimes be hard to define for a program that can’t be measured in black and white, but Peters knows that her job has been done when she has helped a student develop as an artist, in whatever context.

“I always like to stretch the students’ limits,” Peters said. “Art should mean something beyond a pretty picture, and when I can get them to understand that and help them start to communicate, I know that student is headed in the right direction.”

And communication is what art is all about, according to Peters.

She teaches how the cave paintings predate any other expression to illustrate that point to her classes.

“Art is communication,” Peters said. “You can do something really well and not communicate, but once you’ve started expressing yourself, you’re really on to something.”

Peters has “worked hard to build the program to what it is,” and if it takes until well after the final school bell has rung, then that’s what it takes.

But one thing’s for certain: the end product will be worth the wait.