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Expo-sing local talent at the Pittsburgh Mills

| Thursday, April 14, 2011

Launched in 2007, the Allegheny Valley Optimist Club's Cultural Arts Expo sought to celebrate the creative and performing arts of Alle-Kiski Valley residents.

That ambitious goal remains the same as the free event opens today through Sunday at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer.

Artists, mostly students and teachers from several school districts, will share their creativity in the former Linens & Things store space.

Colfax Chamber Singers will perform at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday in the food court. "I can see their confidence getting stronger at every performance," says their director Jayne Sheldon, who teaches music at Colfax Upper Elementary and Acmetonia Primary in the Allegheny Valley School District. "This can show the public just what the kids are learning in their arts programs."

Their program, "The Rainbow Connection," presents songs with colors in the title.

"So many talented residents do not get the exposure they deserve. We in the Optimist Club felt the Cultural Arts Expo could provide it," says club charter member Rege Fleck of Tarentum. The Expo is his brainchild.

"I think people have enjoyed seeing the talent of many school districts," he says.

This is the fourth Expo; it took a year off last year.

The show is so significant in the big picture of area art displays because it is a community invitational, Valley High School visual art teacher Prissy Pakulski says. "It demonstrates how this community values artistic expression."

She references the Optimist Club mission statement "to be just as enthusiast about the success of others as you are about your own." A show like this sets the groundwork for an opportunity to improve the community, she says.

It gives the students' work "a quality of importance" that a school-based show does not, says Gwendolyn Korvick, elementary art teacher for New Kensington-Arnold schools. "Having the work in a large, beautiful building is exciting for the students."

Karla Grant, visual art and ceramics instructor at Valley, says, "the audience that views the work is much larger than any other venue that they participate in. The encouragement for them is priceless and helps to build their confidence and interest in pursuing art further."

There is no substitute for exhibits or the opportunity for an artist to compare his or her efforts to the work of others, says Kathy Jozefov, who teaches commercial art and graphic design at Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center, New Kensington, which serves students from several area high schools.

"This year, we put together a display that is very different, one that really shows what we do," she says. It will include fine-art entries, such as drawings and paintings, and digitally designed work, such as posters or advertisements. For the first time, the Computer Technology class will exhibit computer-game art. Because it is interactive, students will welcome visitors and explain what they see. "We are very excited," Jozefov says.

In the midst of things

"I really just want people to see the world as I see it, and they can do this through my artwork," says junior Tyler Stelmach, a student of Jozefov's whose home school is Valley. His display of pen and inks inspired by his favorite music will be showcased.

Every piece that is created has its own story, says senior Katelynne Kelm of Northern Westmoreland, who loves digital illustration. Her home school is Kiski Area. "We make it our own while we work," she says.

Teacher Regina Selden of St. Joseph High School has a poster hanging in her art room with painter Edgar Degas' quote: "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Her students are presenting drawings in graphite, colored pencil, watercolor and sculpture in foam and ceramics. "The experience of exhibiting stimulates their imagination and develops self-esteem," she says.

Without these programs and exhibitions, the opportunities for creative growth in young people would be seriously compromised, says Christy Culp, a Deer Lakes High School art teacher.

"I love seeing what other people can do. It inspires me to try new things," says senior Rheannon Bradt, who enjoys acrylic paintings. "It makes me realize the talent and potential many of us have and helps keep me on my toes," says fellow Deer Lakes senior Mimi Morrow, who has a portrait on view.

Learning beyond the walls of a school truly can be inspirational, says Louise Harvilla, art teacher at Highlands Middle School. "Students need to see their work displayed in the community. It assures them that the arts are valued and the works they've created are meaningful," she says.

This is Leechburg Area High School's first year in the event, and teacher Shayle Prorok says her students are excited. "We have so much talent in the area, and most of the time no one other than the district we are in gets to see it," she says.

Create from what you know

Expo goers will see two familiar faces -- actress-model Megan Fox and singer Katy Perry -- in the drawing and watercolor-colored pencil of Leechburg senior Austin Sipolino.

Diva Booker, a Leechburg sophomore, is quite proud of the results of her painting, "The Study of Violet." "I hope people see it from different perspectives, " she says.

Eighth-grader Michael Byers of Kiski Area Intermediate School found creative motivation from his friend's dog, Poncho. "He's a nice little dog, and so I turned him into a super dog and gave him a multicolored cape," he says of the 3-D figure he has on display.

Classmate Seneca Nagy can't wait to see everyone's work. "We're just used to seeing things from around our town, and it's cool to experience what others have in mind," she says.

Her painting of a singer is done in neon green with pink fading to a purple background. "Normal's boring. Sometimes you have to have some edge," she says.

JoAnn Wesolosky, art teacher at Kiski Area Intermediate, praises the Optimist Club for its continual support of the Cultural Arts Expo. "The arts exist as an integral part of our lives. Having art expos and opportunities to discuss the arts bring their impact into focus," she says.

Additional Information:

Cultural Arts Expo 2011

Sponsored by: Allegheny Valley Optimist Club

When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. today-Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer (in the former Linens & Things store)

Admission: Free

Details: 724-462-3958; e-mail


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