By Angela Hwang, Hazel Rothrock and Nadia Tatischeva
When you walk down the hall at Summit Denali High School, you see blank walls, with maybe one or two posters advertising the middle school play and a couple bulletin boards dedicated to sports and clubs. There’s a clear lack of art on the walls. There also aren’t any posters advertising a high school play, because there isn’t one. In fact, there seems to be a general lack of attention to arts at Denali.
The arts, both visual and performing, are amazing ways to build strong relationships and a deep sense of community within a school. They also function as a way for people to express themselves and bring attention to the problems long overlooked in schools and society, such as prejudice and unjust violence, among many others.
Teachers and students at Denali all agree Denali needs more. More visual arts. More drama. More opportunities for students to create.
But why can’t schools just put everything into sports and call it a day? What’s the difference? According to Mathew Scicluna, the Visual Arts teacher at Denali, art was the first way he found to express himself as an individual as opposed to “a team in a sport or … as a student in a class.”
Mr. Scicluna went on to say that the culture people come from and the community they live in both affect the kind of pieces they create.
Keith Brown, the Stage Combat teacher, agreed, saying: “(Art) really teaches a person about their soul. Any kind of art is what reminds people what being human is like.”
Skyler Sauer, a Denali freshman, explained that “[Performing arts] has helped me make a lot of friends. I did a show in middle school and that helped build community.”
Introducing more arts into the Denali community might lead to the question of what responsibility artists have to their community. That’s where things get interesting. Kalyn Olson, the former Visual Arts teacher and current Expeditions dean at Denali, said, “I think [the responsibility is] to highlight and amplify the voices that don’t [get] heard either on television or on the media and so, if art can do that, and fulfill that responsibility to the community of making sure everyone feels valid and heard, then I think we’ve done our job.”
Mr. Brown agreed: “I know that once [the drama program] gets more established and there’s more chances for students to actually take drama classes, they’ll be able to address some of the things they see … In one of my other schools, I specifically saw students make a play about the way that bullies work at their school.”
Mr. Scicluna, on the other hand, is of another mind: “I feel like artists don’t have any responsibility to their community, but they should want to have a responsibility to their community,” he said. “Because artists are the storytellers of society, so they’re the ones who gets to say things that are a little bit awkward or uncomfortable.”
Allowing more time and space for art at Denali will allow students to take on more of a responsibility for their community and enable them to make an impact on their school community. The arts are a way for relationships to be built and for people to convey their emotions and bring attention to the problems in a community. In fact, according to PBS, the arts benefit children by helping to develop motor skills, language(s), decision making, visual learning, inventiveness and cultural awareness, as well as by improving academic performance, all essential skills to cultivate in order to be successful in life.
See below for a video about arts at Denali: