Into the Sunset

The mural had remained unfinished for 25 years, a panel of the film unspooling above the door of what had been the film room started but never completed. Few noticed it, or said anything if they did, but this year, as ACMA turned its collective attention to the history of our artsy school, conversation sprang up about the unfinished mural in the main hallway.

So rich with possibilities.

It took about thirty seconds to realize that as the building entered its final year we ought to finish this picture. Sure, it wouldn’t be as long lived as the rest of the murals on campus, and…

To lean into a little Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

I took to social media to ask if anyone wanted to pick up a paintbrush and finish the mural. An 8th grader was quick to say “yes.” We agreed that in keeping with that notion of art as experience, and underscoring the impermanence of art that our school is feeling collectively this year (as we prepare to move and see the 1949 building razed to make way for a new ACMA in 2021), we’d set the date for this completion in May.

As artists, we know that making art is where the magic lies, even if the physical life of that art is as impermanent as those first summer leaves. Sure, some of the big ones stick around, The Last Supper, the cave paintings at Lascaux, and such, but paint on a wall knows that its life is limited, and yet as humans we keep painting on walls.

Diego Rivera, the prolific Mexican muralist, recognized that “great art is like a tree, which grows in a particular place and has a trunk, leaves, blossoms, boughs, fruit, and roots of its own.” And while some redwoods tower above all others, other trees provide the wood from which humans have always built houses for shelter, ships for discovery, and the brushes, pencils, sculpting tools, sets, and stages that have given voice to art for eons and continue to do so today.

Rivera talked a lot about the importance of his work as it related to his culture, as true for him and Mexico as it is for us and ACMA. Enter that middle school artist with a box of paint and a ladder.

IMG_1616 (1)Hers would be the last mural at C.E. Mason Elementary, the longest running project in our school’s history, and a nod to art for the sake of art, not simply for longevity.

She decided, on the day she came in with a couple of friends to complete the painting, that she’d end the mural history of this building with a sunset.

“My friend told me ‘nothing gold can stay, Pony Boy,’” she explained to me with a smile, referencing the S.E. Hinton classic. That seemed right. “If you look closely you can see the two figures there watching the sun go down.”

Painting (and laughing and snacking and hanging out) took much of the day, as it had when the first artists pulled ladders to the wall back in 1994. Then, as now, making art at ACMA was both communal and filled with fun.

They even snuck a line from a My Chemical Romance song into another frame of the mural, a perfectly ACMA thing to do.

A quarter century later, that mural looks great, complete, ready for destruction when the school year ends. The destruction of the building, not the spirit of art. …and I like knowing that these same students will be juniors when we move to the new campus in 2021, ready to work on the first mural in the new ACMA. Stay gold, Pony Boy.


Springtime Foursquare

It’s the time of year where sweatshirts and cardigans are collecting on the coat tree in my office. Cold mornings and warm afternoons make wardrobe choice a moving target. Gray skies turning to sunny days mark the advent of Oregon spring. It is glorious.

IMG_1558Almost overnight the students are eating lunch outside again, picnicking on the lawn, lounging in the sun, and playing foursquare in the courtyard.

Yep, I said foursquare.

High schoolers.


This is also glorious, and while I know that at the magically quirky school where I work one should expect the unexpected, I’ll admit that seeing these teenagers (so poised and passionate when they make art, so purposeful and professional in their academic classes) play, flat out play surprised me in the best possible way.

Our little school has a history of vigorous foursquare dating back to the 1940s when campus was occupied by CE Mason Elementary School. Look at old photos and you’ll see courts painted on the blacktop; today it’s sidewalk chalk that provides the playing space, and 6th-12th graders who provide the oo’s and ah’s of a fast-pitched game.

For any cynics out there who hold to the notion that “kids today” are fundamentally different than they were when Truman was president, or Kennedy, or Nixon, I offer first and second lunch at ACMA as Exhibit A to refute the claim. Students, even (or maybe especially) the most driven students, need the freedom to play.

photo (3)In his splendid book Play, Stuart Brown accurately notes  that “play, by its very nature is a little anarchic. It’s about stepping outside of normal life and breaking normal patterns. It’s about bending rules of thought, action, and behavior.” What better antidote to the sometimes stressful structure of school than a little foursquare?

Uninhibited play, accompanied by laughter -as uninhibited play almost always is- should be a part of the school day. Recess doesn’t need to stop in elementary school, and I’ll suggest that the cost of a couple of red rubber balls may be one of the best investments we’ve made this year.

As we rush into May, with June approaching like a child coasting downhill on a bicycle, there is a tendency to say that kids (and some adults) are getting restless. They are. That’s okay.

And maybe, just maybe, the answer isn’t only in blowing whistles at them or scolding them into straight rows. Maybe, just maybe, what we see as restlessness is really that very, very human need to play.

Sure they need to do math, and English, and science too. Yep, they should be completing their timelines in history class and portfolios in art, and…

IMG_1465Maybe they should have a chance to play foursquare, and shoot baskets, and laugh through a game of Sharks and Minnows. Maybe it’s good for the high schoolers to sneak in a game of wall ball between AP Calculus and Government class. Maybe laughter, and play, and both time and encouragement to be a kid is part of the answer for “kids today.”

The world has changed much since students first played foursquare in the courtyard, and I’m buoyed by the reality that one thing that hasn’t changed is the competitive joy kids throughout the decades have brought to that play. Things can be stressful, things can be gray, but like an Oregon spring, the sun comes out, whispering to us to leave that sweater inside and get out and play.

Breaking Fire Codes, Probably

“How many of you have never been in the principal’s office? Show of hands.”

A few perplexed looks. “Not for misbehavior,” I added, “just for any reason, you’ve never physically been in that particular room at the school.” A few more hands went up, fewer than I expected, which was marvelous.

We were finishing a Senior Ohana, where the class of 2019 was hearing about caps and gowns, how to audition for the senior speech, and getting my paternal advice about making good choices and the fact that the police see hijinks in a different way than they might.

We’d torn through the list of end of the year activities and responsibilities, nominated staff members to give a speech at graduation, and talked about the big breakfast on the last day of school. After all of that, I offered to them an opportunity for creativity and discomfort.

IMG_0259They were curious.

I asked for that show of hands.

And then, the invitation.

This May ACMA is staging the first ever ACMA Spectacular! It’s two evenings of performance and art that include every creative corner of our school. Students will sing, act, dance, make music, and make the audience applaud like they’ve never applauded before. There will be collaborations between artistic pathways, a slew of student art in the foyer (for sale to benefit the school), and some surprises thrown in to boot.

Our writers and filmmakers, sculptors and storytellers, everyone will have a hand in putting on an event whose scale our little art school has never seen. Amid a busy May, it’s the biggest show in town, and I explained to my seniors that to talk about the ACMA Spectacular in my monthly video message I needed something more than my usual talking head. I needed something …spectacular!


If you’ve ever wondered if fifty or so students can fit in the principal’s office at one time, some with horns and bass guitars, the answer is a resounding YES. If you wonder if a group like that will laugh a lot, be kind to each other, and make their principal the proudest educator in the world, another big affirmative.

ACMA’s class of 2019 is an astounding collection of creative, kind, and collaborative souls, and today I was blessed with their company, energy, and smiles. It was spectacular!



What if we got everyone together, all the performing arts: theater, dance, jazz, orchestra, vocal music; asked our writers to read their works and filmmakers to screen what they’ve been working on; filled the foyer with visual art, sculpture, and even included some of that in art in the show? What if we made something big, something that showed off every corner of ACMA, from our composers to choreographers, painters, poets, filmmakers and more? It would be, quite simply …spectacular.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 6.38.20 PM

The conversation, which ran like a wildfire through our ACMA staff, was prompted by some creative thinking ACMA PTO members who were looking for something other than the traditional auction to support our kids. ACMA has never been conventional, and the idea of doing something that welcomed everyone, adults and families and put the focus squarely on the art just made sense. Beautiful, unconventional, ACMA sense.

So… rather than an evening where the star of the show is a stranger rapidly reciting numbers, this year we’ve given the emceeing to one of our ACMA family, we’ve broken out of the conventionality of of a dinner and series of speeches, and we’ve put together creative acts that the community will be talking about for years to come. More than a parade of items to bid on, this show will be a cavalcade of creativity. Rather than tell folks about what our students do, we’re excited to show them the astounding artistry ACMA artists are capable of. Jaws will drop.

One of the joys of being the principal at ACMA is having the opportunity to see student artists creating every day. In studios and classrooms, I see kids painting, animating, writing, singing, dancing, playing jazz, sculpting, drawing, taking photographs, making movies, designing sets and costumes, playing classical music, and more. To call that inspiring undervalues the word inspiring. Under one roof we have such a broad spectrum of art that not everyone gets to see. Until now.

This May ACMA is going to share its collective creativity with the world in our first ever ACMA Spectacular! It promises to live up to its name.

Our dancers will dance, our musicians will make music, our writers will read, our filmmakers have been working on films all year for this event. Anyone visiting the Performing Arts Center will see sculpture, drawing, and painting, all of it for sale to benefit our students. In addition to those pathway specific performances we’ll also have collaborations between departments, some never seen on stage before. Tickets for the two shows are on sale now, and are well worth the price of admission, all of which goes to supporting student artists at ACMA.

It’s that idea of supporting kids that is at the center of all of this, and celebrating art as we do so. Truth be told, I’ve had a good time at more than a few auctions over the years, but I’ve never looked forward to an auction the way I’m excited about this year’s adventure in art.

It will be the biggest collaboration ACMA has ever seen and every ticket purchased, every piece of art sold to an ACMA patron (and there will be so many at such a range of prices), will help to ensure that the arts can continue to thrive.

Today more than ever the importance of art looms large. As budgets constrict and the world turns its eyes toward less poetic matters, art, and the artists who make it, continue to be a source of hope.

Joining us for the ACMA Spectacular, either on Friday night, for a more streamlined show, perfect for families; Saturday, with every bell and whistle; or even Saturday’s VIP experience, for those patrons of ACMA arts who want to contribute in a big way (and will get a bonus pre-show historical tour, concert, and ACMA gift bag), joining us for any of those experiences is a great way to enjoy great art, cheer amazing artists, and contribute to the future of ACMA art yet to be created.

It should be really fun too.

And since this is the last year students are here at the present campus that opened as CE Mason Elementary School in 1949, we’ve put together some historical retrospectives that celebrate the entire life of our little school. Our audience will take a look into the past, revel in the artistry of the present, and join us in looking to a future that promises to be …Spectacular!

Tickets are on sale now for both shows at our PTO website
Family Friday, May 17 at 7:00 PM

Gala Saturday, May 18th at 7:00 PM


Untroubled by origins
I allow myself the delight
Of an unexpected discovery
Inviting adventure.

The climb and crawl
To the attic was real,
A story unlike any other
In our storied school’s history.
My steadfast companions
From that day will live
In the part of my heart
Reserved for Hardy Boys books,
Summer forts
And the Daniel Boone coonskin cap of my youth.

The volume of Scott was real
Older than our school
By more than a hundred years
Its inscription:
To Mary St. More
Christmas 1890
A story I will never know.

The very real key fit a lock
In a wooden door from 1949
Turning when guided by a student’s hand
And engaging the antique lock with a very real

The words in the story
Of pirates and poets and puppets
As real as many stories I’ve read at school
Led to a very real map
And a spot in the very real grass
So green with spring
After such a long, long winter
Where a very real mason jar
Held a cow everyone recognized
As belonging to a girl named Mary.

Whoever, however,
These matter less to me
Than the very real adventure
The very real discovery
The very real laughter and digging and fun
That these objects brought
To the most important part of this great game
The treasure hunters,
All of them,
Who helped bring to life
Admiral Clarence Morgan Arbuthnot.


Book, Journal, and Key

There was a bit of a stir at ACMA on Monday, April 1st, when three students who were helping me measure some huge wooden beams in the attic above the library (a dark and dusty place where no one ever goes) found a small, weatherbeaten journal, an old book by Walter Scott (without a copyright, but with an inscription dated Christmas 1890), a set of (now) antique pliers, and a key.


Over the past week I posted images of the journal’s pages, and many students have visited my office to take a look at the originals, but a few have asked if anyone was going to transcribe the handwriting and I’ve done my best to do so here.

I’ll write more on this adventure in the weeks to come, I’m sure, but for now I wanted to offer my intrepid treasure hunting ACMAniacs an easier to read version of that antiquated scrawl. Click here for a link to a PDF of the Journal of Clement Arbuthnot


1The audience laughed, and clapped, and held its collective heart. The film on the screen played to a big audience on the main stage of ACMA’s performing arts center. A collaborative effort, our Film Seminar students were given the challenge to create one film that they wrote, shot, and directed …and edited and mixed …oh, and cast, acted in, and scored.

Clever, heartfelt, and so very professional, Behind the Veil showed ACMA filmmaking at its best.

The students who made the film stepped to the stage afterward to talk about their process and their work. Delightful, honest, and so incredibly thoughtful about their film, they put on a master class in collaborative filmmaking, documenting the challenges of starting with a blank piece of paper, writing and revising, shooting, reshooting, adjusting, and making artistic decisions. The path they described was long, funny, and filled with the creative struggle that often defines great art.

Just from this Q&A the audience could see the genuine chemistry and respectful give and take that seem to have defined the project. There were opinions and strong points of view, artistic visions and practical decisions, wild concepts and grounded approaches to making things work. It was collaboration writ large, and the result was as stunning as the process was inspirational.

That inspiration showed up in the questions the audience asked. Curious to know about their influences, their choice of technology, and their approach to bringing this story to life, the students and adults who filled the theater asked about every aspect of the filmmaking, and the cast and crew were able to answer them in a way that blended the exuberance of being a high school student and the understanding of people who had studied their craft for a long, long time.

Familiarity with the history of film, and true appreciation for certain filmmakers, was evident in the answers students provided about cinematography, direction, and score. Not only were these students able to discuss why Christopher Nolan’s camerawork informed their shooting of specific scenes, for example, they also showed their confident approach to their own work as the student composer described how the director and producer had asked him to score the film, sometimes mentioning film composers by name as inspiration. “She thought I could sound like Hans Zimmer,” he said smiling. Truth be told, his score sounded better than some you’ll see in theaters.

film panel

The film itself was a lovely story of romance as well as a marvelous take on the making of movies. Clever, creative, and self aware without being self serving, Behind the Veil told parallel stories of love, self expression, empowerment, and freedom. The usual cinematic stereotypes and expectations were brought out to be blown up. Genre shifting was deliberate and smart, and most importantly never got in the way of what was a meaningful and heartfelt love story.

One of my favorite moments of a wonderful night was when a student raised her hand and asked the panel two questions: What advice would you give future ACMA students if we’re given this assignment to make a film together? The students answered with humor and insight, offering a mix of good advice and funny anecdotes. Her next question: could this be something Mr. Bennett, ACMA’s film teacher, would do every year?

Hope and expectation are two of the best things art can inspire.


If you weren’t able to attend the premiere of Behind the Veil last night, you have one more chance today (March 3rd at 2PM) to see the film, watch a behind the scenes short, and hear the cast and crew talk about their art. If you’re anywhere near campus this afternoon it’s an inspiration you owe it to yourself to enjoy. Not sure? Check out the trailer here!