“September 8th, 1992. The Grand opening of CE Mason Arts and Communication high school. Approximately one hundred and fifty high school students came that anxious Monday morning expecting something different than the ordinary run of the mill (preppy) high school that most of us have more or less attended in utter boredom. Our expectations set a high standard for the CE Mason staff, and we all wondered if it could be met. As the year progressed, there were many doubts as to the flexibility and quality of our school, and there were some who gave it up and returned to their home schools. But there were also some new faces around the middle of the year who had heard about our school and decided to give it a try.” -from the 1992-1993 yearbook
Students willing to try “something different.” It’s a hallmark of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, as it has been since before ACMA was ACMA.
In the fall of 1992 our little art school burst into existence with a flash of color. While the school kept the C.E. Mason name on the curve above the front doorway and the powder blue trim around the building, inside the hallways resonated with teenage voices and the classrooms became places where students created art.
Those students, so very many of them sporting flannel shirts and mischievous smiles, drew, wrote, and worked with clay. They painted, made music, and a lived life unconventionally.
Peek inside that first yearbook, its cover adorned with an incongruous dragon, and you’ll see faces that look like they could belong to students today, students at pottery wheels, students laughing in wainscoted hallways, students mugging in the courtyard beneath a basketball hoop.
Mixed in with the student mug shots, which aren’t divided by grade level and are not quite in alphabetical order, you’ll find photos of Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin, and Barbara Streisand, artistically mature tastes in stark juxtaposition to the playfully sophomoric senior quotes.
And so much flannel.
That yearbook dedicated three pages to student poetry, and even more to student artwork. One poem captures the spirit of the times, the longing of the creative soul, and the tools a poet took to her craft in 1992.
I can hear that typewriter clicking in our unnamed poet’s bedroom. See her rolling up the paper, taking it out of the machine, and submitting it to the yearbook editors. That poetic sensibility is as real in 2018 as it was a quarter century ago.
Today, looking back at Arts and Communication in its first year means pouring through slides, bags of them. To do this as well as possible, yesterday some intrepid ACMA photography students found a slide projector, learned how to load it, and set up shop in my office, projecting on a blank wall.
As they clicked through the images, clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk, they marveled at the differences on campus (there was a second basketball hoop!), puzzled whose room was shown in the the photos (Ms. Chapman and Ms. Fanning’s rooms were once combined as the library), and laughed at the abundance of plaid shirts. So. Much. Flannel.
In a week or so we’ll put together a grand slideshow (literally slides, clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk) at lunch to look back at the early 90s. If it goes well, we could add a sequel with the stack of slides from 1998 and 1999.
But in its first year, Arts and Communication at C.E. Mason was finding its voice, a voice filled with wit and whimsy. It knew it didn’t want to be an “ordinary run of the mill (preppy) high school” but just how it would get there was still blank space on a map.
In the 1992-1993 school year the portables were still used by other district programs, and A&C students still shared space with community school and CEYP. They were together, however, at the opening of a journey whose possibility stretched forward like something out of Tolkien. That they would be unconventional, there was no doubt. What that would look like …just wait and see.
When graduation arrived in June of 1993 it was announced with a red, white, and blue banner touting Arts & Communications (the first use of an ampersand I’ve seen in the school’s name, and the unusual plural of the second descriptor). About twenty seniors crossed the stage that year, in front of a quilt hung on the wall.
They smiled for cameras, hugged one another, and left their mark on the DNA of our school. These founding mothers and fathers, the first to jump into the unknown that would become ACMA, prepared the way for every student since who has taken a deep breath, looked out at the world through artistic eyes, and decided they wanted “something different.”