The Art Goes On…

Leave it to the filmmakers. Quietly, cleverly, consistently they chronicle life at ACMA and celebrate the imagination (sometimes both at once). They hammer out a steady drumbeat of creativity, make original content that captures our school and our world, and at the same time they are some of the kindest and most generous people I know. Today, sitting at home in week two of “social isolation” I had three reminders of how this group of artists will help us all through these uncertain times.

I sat down at my computer (my cats reminding me that I now share an office with them) and pulled up a video that ACMA students made for our ACMA Spectacular this winter. It was designed to show the transition from our original campus in the CE Mason Elementary building on Center Street, which was demolished over the summer to make way for our new campus on the same site, to our temporary home at the empty building that will be Timberland Middle School. Death and resurrection, ends and beginnings, it’s a soulful celebration of the creative spirit that lives in our school …not in our building, but in our students and staff, the real ACMA.

That video speaks to more than just CE Mason or Timberland these days. Watching it again I was struck by the message of resilience and optimism.

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As I did, I noticed that I’d been tagged in an instagram post by one of my filmmakers. “When the only thing to do during #quarantine is photoshop my principal @bjornpaige #ACMAzing,” he wrote alongside a flattering poster that I wish with all my heart was produced without irony; I do want so much to promote HOPE, particularly right now.

IMG_4155And then, still smiling from Efrem’s post, I opened an email from my film teacher. Thinking about the remote learning that is to come, he was already designing assignments the students could do at home. He wrote from the heart about supporting the kids, and ended with the beautiful closing: “Hope you, the fam, the dog and cats are well. The art goes on…”

And I thought, all of this before nine in the morning, that all will be well. I don’t yet know what the next few weeks or even months will look like, but I believe in the ACMA filmmakers’ vision of rebirth, I know that even in our relative isolation we can and will make art, and I join the creative souls that make up our school family in knowing that it is up to all of us to help provide the world and each other with hope.

Cut Flowers and Spring

It snowed on the first day of the extra week of spring break brought to the kids by the COVID-19 Coronavirus, a strange day after the strange day on which we found out that schools were closing for two weeks and middle school boys everywhere rejoiced in the idea of a fortnight of Fortnite. For the rest of us, particularly the adults who now are puzzling over how to navigate kids and social distancing, Friday was the start of an uncertain time. 

By the time I sat down to write this post on Sunday night more and more restrictions had come into play and others still were being mulled over by folks in government who mull over such things. I keep waiting for the centipede of uncertainty’s next shoe to drop.

That uncertainty, coupled with the challenge of being a principal on the edge of school closures beyond my control but within my responsibility to communicate has put this blog on hold for a week or so, and even now I wasn’t sure what I could say; anything newsworthy would seem to be outdated by the time I hit “post.” So…

I use this blog to tell stories, stories of pirates, and port-a-potties, and pies in the face, and while I might not have the answers right now, I thought I could at least tell two and a half stories of life on the ground here at school, and then end with a line from Neruda and I hope a pinch of hope.

Story 1: I was walking down the hallway Friday morning with one of my math teachers. A senior hurried alongside us and asked: “What are we doing today in statistics?” The teacher didn’t break stride. “Statistics,” he said with a smile.

Story 2: A mom, whose middle school son had been out with a cold, asked if she could come in and pick up some of his books from his locker before the school closed down for two weeks of spring break. I walked her down to his locker and as she tumbled the books, notebooks, and stray papers into a grocery bag the sliver of a note fluttered to the bottom of the locker. She picked it up and glanced at it to see if she ought to stuff it in with the rest. Then she paused, her mother’s eyes deciphering the writing. “This says ‘smooching,’” she said, looking up at me. I thought it was something like a surprised smile that crossed her face. “You could always leave it in the locker,” I suggested. This time the smile was apparent. “Oh no, this one’s going home.”

Story 2½: I waved goodbye to the mom and her note, thinking that the day couldn’t get much stranger, and looked down to realize that I was wearing a lab coat. About a thousand years ago, when I was an English teacher at a small school in Oregon, a good friend and I started “Lab Coat Mondays.” It must have begun when I was teaching Frankenstein or some such thing; costumes were always a part of my repertoire as a teacher, and once I realized the fun (and ample pockets) of a lab coat it was something too great not to do once a week. I’d mentioned Lab Coat Mondays to some colleagues here at ACMA and, with a wit and sense of whimsy that I’ve found to be a part of who we are as a school, it wasn’t long before a host of teachers were wearing lab coats once a week (we opted for Friday). While many of them chose a sleek black look, my old standby is a well worn white lab coat, and I wondered: did that mom think I was wearing this because of COVID-19?

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These are light and cough free stories of the Coronavirus and the weird whirlwind of closing school unexpectedly. I know that there are serious stories of hardship and illness out there as well, and that over the next few days and weeks we could see things turn again and again.

Our present reality caught us mid stride, and while we would like to keep doing what we’re doing (statistics or otherwise) and while we know that life goes on (smooching included, even if we know it could be a bad idea) those ways of being in the world that started with the best of intentions (lab coats on Friday, for instance) could need a bit of modification to make sense today.

There’s a line by Pablo Neruda that came to my mind as information continued to unfold: “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” Canceled classes, postponed events, and even stores without toilet paper and canned beans may make us feel like all of the flowers have been cut down, but spring will come, and as we support one another through these uncertain times, I believe that there are brighter days ahead. Even if we’re surprised by a snowy March morning or two.

Outside

We stood together in the February chill, rain threatening, clouds thick, the grass wet beneath our feet. From the expanse of field we regarded the east side of the school, a new building of sensible earth tone brick, and thought about the possibilities.

We’re living a new reality this year, our little art school hanging our collective hat (beret, fez, fedora, cat ears, horns, or beanie depending on the day) at a school without the big performance hall we’ll have when construction is done on our permanent campus and we return to Center Street in the fall of 2021. 

For the most part we’ve been able to adjust: our dance department turned an auxiliary gym into a fantastic performance venue, theater has chosen shows perfectly suited to our temporary home’s black box theater, and we’ve added monthly Open Mic Nights to fill the commons we’re in for these two years.

This flexibility and challenge to think beyond our usual venues or routines will translate to both a renewed appreciation of our Performing Arts Center (when we see it again) and a spirit of innovation that we’ll bring to our new campus.

And…

Graduation is too big for the black box, or aux gym, or the commons. It needs a grander venue than anything inside our temporary home, and is something intimate enough that we don’t want to just anywhere because it has enough seats.

So…

We got to thinking and began to entertain the notion of taking commencement outside.

Yes, I know, we live in Oregon, where a sunny day in June is as guaranteed as a first novel becoming a bestseller.

Still, the idea of gathering under the sun and celebrating our seniors in a way that has never been done before at our little school sounded about right.

Different? Sure. Unconventional? Maybe. An opportunity for creativity? As they say around our community: “So very ACMA.”

Back to that February rain.

It was me, my astounding secretary, and an intrepid senior who took a wet walk outdoors to allow ourselves to imagine.IMG_3224

We talked about seating, and photos, and where to put the band. We allowed ourselves to imagine a day sunny enough to warrant some pop ups for our visiting grandparents who would need the shade. And as we paced and photographed, suggested and saw in our mind’s eye what the ceremony might be, the idea of commencement on the east long began to look fantastic.

We hurried inside and got out an invitation to the seniors to meet in early March to walk out and offer suggestions. We know that creativity can be inspired through collaboration, and we want the graduates to have a hand in designing their day.

Education has a place for dreaming and for doing, for many voices and shared interests imagining in February what the world can look like in spring.

The Real Truth of It

We will sell tickets at the door, and last year it was wonderful walk-ups (alumni, parents, and curious community members) who brought in bucket loads of love and support. They, like all the audience, wanted a taste of the artistic spirit of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy who showed up in droves to see artists, actors, dancers, sculptors, poets, singers, and more than a few surprises light up ACMA. Their tickets helped to support arts education, and provided students with the kind of patronage that made a real difference.

Plus, and this is the real truth of it, the ACMA Spectacular was fun.

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This Friday and Saturday the most fun you can have is on 118th Avenue. Come to see our dancers perform The Carnival of the Animals (with costumes by our visual artists and music by our classical orchestra) and stay to see actors who will make you laugh, poets who will move you to tears, and musicians who will swing like a gate.

You’ll see fantastic films, hear astounding vocalists, and could even leave with a painting. 

Plus, and this is the real truth of it, your support of the ACMA Spectacular makes a profound difference in the artistic lives of kids.

The $45 ticket price goes right to the arts and artists of ACMA. With that contribution, that investment in art and artists and ACMA, you can change lives. Schools like ours are rare and the positive, life affirming impact ACMA makes, sometimes on students who might not find a home that fits anywhere else, is as astonishing as the art they create …when supporters like you help give them the chance.

And it is possible because our community supports us, as we hope you might this weekend. If you’re free on Friday or Saturday night, we hope you’ll come to campus to enjoy an evening of performance and positivity. The real truth of it is that we can’t do this without you.

 

You can find out more and purchase tickets through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support out kids.

Welcome to the real (and spectacular) ACMA

Day to day, hour to hour, ACMA is a magical place. For those of us who get to be on campus during the school day, the sight of students singing in the hallway, applauding around a lunch table, or playing an impromptu piano concert in the commons is part of our usual ACMA experience. Our students carry portfolios and sculptures to class, ACMA filmmakers seem always to be shooting a scene, and during passing periods groups of dancers dash from studios to changing rooms like schools of colorful fish. What we see when we’re here from 7:30 in the morning until school lets out at 2:05 is striking both in artistic diversity (poets, painters, animators, actors, singers and set builders) and talent. To be immersed in ACMA is to live Neil Gaiman’s line: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”

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All too seldom do we have an opportunity to share this wild artistic abundance, and…

Once a year all of our disciplines pull together to do something spectacular. For a night or two audiences come to campus and have the opportunity to be immersed in art and surrounded by creative students doing what they love. 

This week, February 7th and 8th, our ACMA Spectacular gives the unsuspecting (well maybe suspecting) public a chance to see our dancers, actors, and musicians performing together. Those who buy a ticket for Friday or Saturday night hear poets, see photography and fine art, and are able to support our young artists in a thousand ways (including purchasing a piece of art they can take home). The Spectacular allows everyone to experience a sliver of what our students do, walking a hallway filled with creativity, energy, and passion, and then ducking in to see performances that span the creative spectrum. 

What to expect at the Spectacular? Everything. Anything. 

Come early for the Monster Drawing Rally. I plan on joining in on the creative fun, drawing right there with the audience and creating a piece or two that folks can purchase to support AMCA artists.

Spectacular_2020_PosterHear our musicians play while our dancers perform The Carnival of the Animals.

Have a seven minute portrait done of your kid, your parent, or yourself …suitable for framing!

See a show stopping number from Cabaret, witness poets collaborating with dancers and visual artists, and listen to our vocalists remind us that all we need is love.

If you like a silent auction, we’ll have that too, plus gift baskets, refreshments, and artistic surprises (like a cinema showing ACMA films and a few booths described to me, in “so very ACMA” style as “a renegade craft fair”).

This is a chance for the world to experience ACMA and support the arts and artists who make up our creative community. There is still time to buy a ticket for one of the two nights, a bargain at $45. All of the proceeds go directly to helping ACMA continue to provide a fantastic arts experience to our students.

I thank everyone for supporting our ACMA artists, and I look forward to seeing you at this magical place we call home.

 

You can find out more and purchase tickets for Friday (2/7) or Saturday (2/8) through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support our kids.

Watching Snow Fall with Chinese Dancers

A notable moment came when the kids were just talking. A group of ACMA 6th graders were sitting in the commons with thirty-seven kids their age visiting from Shanghai, and ahead of the Chinese students visiting a few classes they got to comparing notes on school. Our students, who know our 7:30 am start time is early, asked when they started at their school in China. 7:00 am. ACMA eyes opened wide. What time did our kids finish? 2:05. It was time for our guests’ jaws to drop. What time are you out? We asked. 5:00 pm, and then two or three hours of homework. Did they have time to hang out with friends? Go swimming? Play basketball? No. No. and No. To be eleven years old at ACMA is different than being eleven in Shanghai.

Those differences, from what kids wear to what kids eat, faded, however, as the students talked about the classes they loved and the classes they …didn’t love as much. Believe it or not, preteen attitudes toward some academic subjects seem to cross cultural lines.

Similar too was the playfulness of both ACMA students and students from Shanghai; both groups laughed easily, clowned around, and smiled when someone did something goofy. Kids, no matter if they live in Beaverton or Wujiaochang giggle, are tempted to toss fruit at lunch, and feel like running up the stairs in the hallway.

IMG_3004Here at ACMA we are very fortunate to have a longstanding tradition of dancers visiting from an art school in Shanghai. They perform for our student body and dance with our ACMA dance students. After the performance they join our kids for lunch and attend classes for the rest of the day. It is fantastic.

This year a second group of students visited ACMA the day before the dancers; it was these students who shared wonder with school hours, homework, and attitudes toward math. After their mixing and mingling they broke off into groups to visit a theater class, a science class, and a couple of music classes. 

Later that day our theater teacher told me: “when we started playing games it was great to see the Chinese students start to engage little by little. We played simple games, like whoosh, I am a tree, and Boppity-Bop-Bop-Bop. It took a little while for the kids to understand what was happening, but once they were able to see the demonstration and get a little bit of translation, they were able to engage and we could see genuine joy on their faces.” If only we could get world leaders to play Boppity-Bop-Bop. ” At one point, it started snowing,” he told me, “and all the kids rushed to the window to see the snow fall.” There is something universal about snow falling.

It’s experiences like this that help kids see a world broader than their own. Those youngsters from China return home knowing that the United States is made of a diverse collection of people, included among them kids in capes and rainbow unicorn hats. It also helps our students understand that kids from China are …kids. Like them, very often anyway, and even if those students don’t have opportunities to wear as many capes, they share more in common than some in the world would like to believe.American, Chinese, from Beaverton or Shanghai, kids are kids, artists are artists, and all of us rush to the window to see falling snow.