Culture Club – Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance

There’s no question that art of all kinds – visual, performing, literary, culinary, and otherwise – abounds on our peninsula. I’m no stranger to that concept now, but seventeen-year-old me was clueless. Sure, I knew of a few artists on the peninsula and had attended various theatre performances, but I was also a typical Door County teenager – which meant school and extracurricular activities for nine months and a summer job for the other three. I lacked the time – and the resources – to learn about the peninsula’s thriving arts culture.

The Hardy Gallery recognized a few years ago that there were many teenagers on the peninsula in the same position, and, to this end, launched a program called Exposure to Creativity (ETC). ETC was launched during the 2007 – 2008 school year. ETC is a collaborative program between the Hardy and Friends of Gibraltar (FOG, a non-profit organization serving Gibraltar Area Schools), with financial support from Gibraltar Area Schools and initial in-kind support from The Clearing, the Northern Door YMCA and the Peninsula School of Art.

The Hardy’s education committee began researching the proposal for ETC years ago. The committee knew that there needed to be a place for overall arts education in schools, not just for those currently enrolled in school art programs. Each student needed the opportunity to develop his or her creative interests. It was decided that any program that could be embedded in the school day would be the most beneficial. While weekend or summer art classes are valuable and accessible to many, not all students have the free time or the financial resources to make these classes a reality.

The ETC program consists of two primary components: hands-on workshops that enhance the school curriculum and an arts mentor program that offers more in-depth exposure and adult guidance. Through the ETC program, high school students are provided with the opportunities to expand their personal horizons, strengthen their academic success, and increase their potential career directions.

Molly Grenchik, a Gibraltar student that was a Sophomore when she participated in the ETC program this past spring, said that one of her goals for the program was to learn about new art and media. “I want to get a better idea of what I may want to be,” she says. “I’m interested in all kinds of art – both things I’ve heard about and haven’t heard about. I’m eager to learn.”

The ETC program focuses on many creative fields. Half-day workshops offered in the past have included digital photography, graphic design, theater/playwriting, creative writing/poetry, gourmet cooking and food presentation, architecture, pottery, clothing design, landscape design, and much more. In the 2008 – 2009 ETC program, each Gibraltar High School student (over 300 students) participated in two different half-day workshops taught by 23 area arts professionals both at the school and off-campus at an artist’s workshop or studio. After the workshops, evaluations were given to each of the students to assess their interest in participating in a small group mentor experience later in the school year. Thirteen students were matched with five appropriate mentors.

For the 2009 – 2010 school year, the ETC programs will work a little differently. Results from the surveys completed last year by workshop instructors revealed a need to separate the freshman class due to the wide variance of skill levels among the students. All of the freshmen will participate in a “sampler” of creative workshops this year, which will expose them to a variety of creative interests. The sophomore through senior students will make selections for two half-day workshops, similar to last year. The last half-day workshop in November will conclude with an all-school assembly program presented by ComedySportz, a motivational comedy group.

The collaboration between the Hardy Gallery and FOG has been a vital one. This year, the two organizations will expand that collaborative footprint to work with another local non-profit, the Door County chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Each year, FOG centers its programming on a theme. For the 2009 – 2010 school year, the theme is Service Learning, a term that combines community service with regular classroom activity. Through the ETC program, the participants will create artwork (in collaboration with the homeowners) that will hang in the homes built by Habitat for Humanity this year.

The connections that have been forged by the ETC program are wonderful in many ways. There’s the obvious way of connecting students with the arts when there might not have been a connection made before. “The concept of connecting quality artists with interested youth is marvelous,” says Kirk Knutson, Gibraltar’s Secondary School Principal. “It allows the area youth to understand that we value them and want them to succeed.” There have been several arts residencies in Door County schools, but no organization has developed a free, student-driven mentor program.

Not only does ETC support youth and art education, but also contributes to the growth of our local artists. And for a peninsula that boasts over 100 galleries, studios, and workshops, it’s a worthy enterprise to continue to connect Door County students with professional artists on the peninsula.

Melissa Ripp is the Hardy Gallery’s Community Relations Coordinator.