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Cultural Arts Expo moves to Pittsburgh Mills

| Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mary Kay Miller sees creativity as an "endowment of leaders," a gift to be encouraged.

"I think it is important for students to know that their work is appreciated by others and has value," adds the art teacher for Highlands School district's Fawn and Heights elementary schools.

That's why Miller and other instructors and students in several Alle-Kiski Valley school districts are pleased once again to have a showcase for that creativity in the third annual Allegheny Valley Optimist Club's Cultural Arts Expo.

This year, it moves to the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer, a potentially larger spotlight for the participants. The presentation of art, crafts, sculpture and other media for expression for students, as well as adults, is free to the public.

Valley, Kiski Area, Freeport, Highlands, Burrell, Deer Lakes, St. Joseph, Springdale, Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center and Oakbridge Academy of Arts are scheduled to take part.

"We thought there would be about 400 pieces of art and were very surprised to see over 600 entries," says Expo organizer Rege Fleck of Tarentum, past president and charter member of the Optimists.

"The students feel proud to be part of something like this," Miller says. "We are value-building with these types of events; values for the work that is done and values for the child. We are presenting a creatively communicative side of our students that will say to the world we are appreciators of beauty in our life."

Haley Vakulick, a fourth-grader at Fawn who is represented with a book jacket she calls "Super Shark" and a leaf design drawing, is an example. "I feel really happy that I made it into the show," she says.

So does second-grader Elliot Bushman, whose collage of smiley art will be on display. "I think people will smile and be happy when they see my work," he says. He is eager to share his technique, too, explaining, "I just used googly eyes and scissors and glue to make it. And then I used Play-Doh and paint."

Alexis Williams, a Fawn third-grader, found artistic motivation one day while watching a movie. "It was boring, so instead, I drew a picture with my grandma," she says. Now her "Mermaid by the Sea" will be on display at the mall. "I am excited to have my picture there," she says.

Optimist Club members are elated to see such enthusiasm. Fleck says he takes great joy watching a first-grade student "show off" his or her artwork to "grandma and grandpa."

First-grader Ryan Hastings of North Washington Elementary School can't wait to see his "green monster" drawing on display. "I got the 'Artist of the Day' award for it," he says proudly.

Jade Bothell, in the third-grade at North Washington, also wants to put a smile on people's faces with the project in which he was involved. "We made a rainbow on a rainy day to make it brighter outside," he says.

The club's primary mission, Fleck says, is to be a "Friend of Youth" and to develop projects with that in mind. With the Expo, he says, the club believes it is supporting a group -- the arts community --that sometimes is short changed, especially in favor of sports.

"There are many venues for athletes to get recognition, but very few for artists," says JoAnn Wesolosky, who teaches elementary art in the Kiski Area School District's Mamont, North Washington and Washington schools.

Optimist Dan Howard of Allegheny Township, a past district governor, agrees. "It has been convenient for school districts to cut the budget in an area where there are not droves of fans on Friday nights or Saturdays. It is too easy to overlook the part of education where we 'bring out the best of each child,' " he says.

Recognition for the arts helps us to be able to teach those children that they can be a success no matter what they choose to do," Howard says.

He says he was overwhelmed at the pride of friends and family looking at the work of their loved ones at previous Expos, held at Highlands High School, Natrona Heights.

Jay Swigart, an art teacher at Springdale High School, likes those moments, too.

"I can see the proud look on their face when they are standing by their artwork and someone walks by and says how they like the piece. They learn a great lesson for life, that hard work is rewarded," he says. "In my heart of hearts, if you have a talent and don't have the opportunity to share it with others, it is wasted."

Art is to be shared and enjoyed and viewed by all, he adds. He believes the move to Mills mall was a good decision. "More people will be able to see the artwork even when they go shopping," he says.

"This year's show should be extraordinarily good," says Springdale senior Christopher Boring. Swigart challenged his students to do a self-portrait in graphite. "I hope people will walk away with the understanding that kids that are pursuing art need these exhibits to show them that what they are doing means something to everyone around them," Boring says.

Springdale junior Adrian Callen hopes that viewers see the potential in young people through their creativity.

An event like the Expo provides positive reinforcement for students and encourages their growth as artists, says Karla Grant, a Valley High School art teacher. Senior Kindall Ward, one of her students who is entering a pastel and a drawing, appreciates the showcase. "I hope people realize the time and effort in the work," she says.

Art should not be taken for granted, says Tiffany Cornman, a Freeport High School senior who will be exhibiting two pastel pieces, among other work. "Take it in, observe and enjoy," she says.

That's exactly what the Optimists hope will happen.

Colfax Singers

Jayne Sheldon loves being able to showcase her students' talent.

"There are a lot of good things going on in our schools, and this is a great way to show them to the public," the teacher says.

She is referring to the Colfax Upper Elementary Chamber Singers, Springdale, which she has directed for 16 years.

The fifth- and sixth-graders are chosen by audition to perform at Allegheny Valley School District and community functions.

They will be the only musical act entertaining at the Allegheny Valley Optimist Club's Cultural Arts Expo, with performances scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday and noon Friday, near the entrance to Macy's at Pittsburgh Mills Galleria, Frazer.

"Being on stage is a thrill for many kids, but being successful makes performing even more rewarding," she says. "People love children's voices more than anything. I often get comments that my choruses sound like angels. Hearing the innocent voices of children is very uplifting," Sheldon says.

The Chamber singers offer a wide repertoire, including Broadway show tunes, American folk songs and multicultural songs, including those sung in foreign languages.

They will perform '60s' classics such as "Aquarius," "Let the Sunshine In," "Both Sides Now" and "Fun, Fun Fun."

"Although I like to introduce new music to our audiences, people typically like to hear familiar songs and relate to them better," Sheldon says. Her group traditionally ends its performances with "So Long, Farewell," from "The Sound of Music." "They do the whole von Trapp children's routine, and the audience love it," says the director, who accompanies on piano or keyboard.

In honor of this year's presidential election, the group will offer a song that names every president in chronological order.

Artist's point of view

Artistic inspiration is one of the goals of the Allegheny Valley Optimist Club's Cultural Arts Expo.

And Optimists believe they have found a strong example of that in nationally acclaimed ceramicist Ron Korczynski of Fawn, featured artist of the show.

He will display and talk about his work from noon to 2 p.m. April 20 in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer. (Store No. 101, directly across from the Nestle's Cookies.)

The retired veteran Highlands School District teacher of 32 years continues to enjoy sharing the creative experience with people.

His work is found in the American Museum of Ceramic Art, and his tribute to the victims and heroes of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is displayed in New York City police and fire departments. It is a rendering of an American Eagle.

He appreciates the concept of the Arts Expo. "It is a good idea what the Optimists are doing in pulling all these kids together and giving them an opportunity to show some of their work, and have their parents and relatives and other people see that, and having a producing artist there, like me, who can say, 'Yes, this was a good road to take. I've enjoyed the ride and look forward to the rest of it. There's nothing better for the creative mind.' "

Information about the artist is available at www.korczynskiceramics.com .

Additional Information:

Cultural Arts Expo 2008

What: Third annual Allegheny Valley Optimist Club's Cultural Arts Expo

When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. April 20

Where: Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer

(Section 1, store No. 101, directly across from the Nestle's Cookie store)

Admission: Free

Details: 724-462-3958 or e-mail regetina9@verizon.net

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