Kreeya attended Arts & Communication High School from 1995 to 1998. She was in Mr. Bennett’s and then Mrs. Von Bergen’s Ohana, and remembers the school offering video production, creative writing, publications, printmaking, painting, ceramics, Japanese, Spanish, horticulture, and photography. “I hesitate to mention just how little math and science (which were only offered as electives) I received during those years,” she recalls. “Those were experimental times, after all.”
But even more than the classes offered, A&C was defined by its culture, and Kreeya explained that “once in, it was easy to find oneself in something of a culture shock. At Arts & Communications High School it was normal routine to see students sprawled in the hallways with sketch books, teachers and students engaged in conversation about current affairs, and groups of teenagers with colorful hair, unlikely piercings, and counterculture fashion mingling in the student lounge. It was the late 90’s. Teenagers were finding their subcultures. There were ravers and industrial kids. Goths and punks. There were people who wore capes and those who spent their days devoted to artistic pursuits.”
Those artistic pursuits yielded profound results, both in terms of art and artists. Students would leave A&C and go on to be professional musicians, artists, teachers, and activists. They would go into politics and theatre, social work and fashion. The adults they would become, engaged, creative, and passionate about their pursuits, were forged at least in part by their time in school, when as they created art, students at C.E. Mason created their community.
“What we didn’t have in academics, we made up for in social and emotional education,” Kreeya explained. “It was in high school that I first saw democracy in action. I felt the power of giving people a voice, even if no action could be taken. I felt valued in the community, like I could make a difference just by being there. Students were allowed to take risks and make mistakes. Often our teachers were closer to us than parents and were able to give the kind of guidance we needed in the moment. We had monthly all-school ‘Town Hall’ meetings where students aired grievances and offered suggestions. We painted murals to make our environment reflect our interests and sense of humor.”
Those murals still look down on ACMA students, and that spirit of community, those connections between students and staff, and that attitude that invites risks and mistakes are alive and well. More than most places, ACMA welcomes those students still finding themselves, as the founding mothers and fathers did in the 1990s. The care and connection those students brought to our school has lasted longer than any individual faculty member, any administration, or any policy at ACMA. The foundation of respect, acceptance, and understanding of the power of art is as solid now as it was then.
This winter Kreeya told me that long after graduation she “was approached by a mutual friend who graduated from AMCA in 2001. He pulled me aside and thanked me and our generation of students. He said that we had set a standard for what it meant to be treated with respect as a student. He said that those early years inspired other classes of learners to be bold and creative and unique. He mentioned how powerful it was to walk down the same halls, following a well worn path of youthful artistic expression. Those earliest years helped all that followed visualize an artist identity. It made it seem attainable. Now just about 25 years later, that history of success in the creative fields is ingrained in the culture of the school and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that.”
All those students, from the 90s, the 2000s, and beyond should feel proud of the contributions they made. The way hasn’t always been easy (the next couple of posts will be a nod to that, so hang on tight if you like the happy parts of stories, I promise it will all come around in the end), and the path to where ACMA is today is certainly full of bends and switchbacks, hills and obstacles, but thanks to the compass created by these early students, with a true north that points toward what matters most, the journey continues to move in the right direction.
“Some years after high school,” Kreeya told me “Mrs. Von Bergen came into the sandwich shop I worked at. ‘That school was a moment in time,’ she said as she rounded out her greeting.”
Indeed it was, and even more, it was the start of something bold and creative and unique.