Delightful is his feigned disbelief.
For an art school to create professional grade painting, drawing, dance, music, theater, sculpture, writing, and film in a building closed as an elementary school in 1974 is astounding to begin with. Dancers working in portables, musicians too, two programs that would seem to require bigger, better, and more specialized spaces, and not just making due, but making beautiful art should have jaws dropping. That filmmakers can produce polished products from a trailer, or that art studios housed in what were once elementary school classrooms can be the launching pad of stellar sculpture and fine art should inspire disbelief, legitimate disbelief, at least from anyone not familiar with Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. And yet…
For any of us who work here, who have gone to school at ACMA, or who are the families of ACMA artists (of any kind) making it work with what we have has been a part of our artistic life as long as the school has been around. When the students decided ACMA needed a gallery, they built one. When the students recognized that they needed to make the school their own, they painted murals. And when the burgeoning dance and theatre programs found themselves without a performance space, they took to the Quonset Hut.
Before the Performing Arts Center came to ACMA, students acted, danced, and made music on a stage in one of the most recognizable parts of campus, the round roofed building that has been, in its history on campus reaching back to 1958, an indoor play area, gym, and cafeteria.
Seeing productions on the main stage of the PAC today, it’s hard to imagine that this same high quality programing could ever take place in what looks like an airplane hanger, and yet…
In 2007, film teacher Corbin Supak played the role of a visitor to ACMA in 11th grader Megan Gould’s short film that embraced this dissonance. The PAC was less than two years away, which may have given these artists the piece of mind to poke fun at their “FOOD COURT / AUDITORIUM,” and poke fun they did.
The show begins with Mitchell, an earnest ACMA student, welcoming our visitor to a campus that should look familiar to alumni and current students alike. They peek into a converted classroom to see a tap class before heading outside to see “the performance space” for ACMA’s shows.
Spotting the Quonset Hut the guessing begins: Auto shop? Construction? Scene building shop?
“Where is the entrance?” our visitor asks, widening his arms to suggest a grand marquee. “It’s right there, next to the trash can,” deadpans our host. They go inside, past the “ACMA Breakfast Special” and into “the performers entrance?!?!” Not so much.
After noticing the “installation art piece” of a water cooler and some microwaves, our pair stop to listen to a rehearsal of the upcoming play. “Mime?” he asks. “No.”
They notice cafeteria coolers, stacks of tables, and signs proclaiming ACMA an exceptional school. With a smile almost touching his lips, our host asserts: “This is legitimate theatre.”
This low key critique of the state of arts facilities at ACMA stands the test of time, and as we prepare to close up the C.E. Mason Elementary building that ACMA has called home for more than a quarter century, it’s fun to look back at the place we’ve made work for so long. As in the student film, any cheeky (feigned) disbelief (because we know that we’ve spun gold from straw for so long) is made easier knowing that a new space is on the horizon, a campus opening in the fall of 2021 designed to be an art school.
In three or four years will the current photography room, film room, and art studios be thought of as being as antiquated as the Quonset Hut? Maybe. I’ll wager that those of us who are able to spend time at both sites will have stories to tell that will make students new to ACMA widen their eyes.