The Sequels

Every movie that gets a positive response seems to end up with a sequel these days, and after a nice reaction to the three student shorts from the mid 1990s a couple of weeks ago it seemed natural to go back to the vault and find another handful of student films to share from Arts & Communication’s past.

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Watching these is a reminder that audiences bring their own perspectives to any viewing. Grads from around the time might spot themselves in the videos. Current students notice the walls that haven’t yet been covered with murals. A sentimental principal like me sees just how much the students from a couple of decades ago seem like the kids who walk the halls now. I see in the joy and daring, the humor and pathos, the laughter and hijinx, a commonality between A&C students from 1996 and ACMA students from 2018. …and it is wonderful.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 9.00.49 AMThis quartet of films captures that madcap spirit of the time and some of the energy student artists brought to our school. With haunting imagery, a vintage telephone booth, and a look at campus (complete with giant greenhouse), the first student film is both familiar and otherworldly. In it you can see the techniques Mr. Bennett, their film teacher, helped the young Kurosawas learn and employ.

Mr. Bennett shows up in the second film, Mr. Bennett’s Pain. As electric guitars wail, a wig clad student steps into film class and proceeds to make mischief at the expense of what one supposes was precious technology at the time. Mr. B’s extended reaction shot (84 seconds …wow!) alone is worth the price of admission.

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Another dreamy entry in the mid 90s pantheon of A&C films comes in an untitled exploration that is an experiment in angles and contrast. It’s hard to be sure what exactly you’re seeing, though the wainscoting and some corners of campus feel familiar.

The longest of these four films is God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, a sprawling epic of close-ups and expressions. Watching God Bless… is like peeking at an Arts & Communications home movie. More than perhaps any student film I’ve seen from the time, this adventure in images and sound seems to snare the school’s zeitgeist, and the result is beautiful.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 9.37.10 AMFrom the PLAY that occasionally shows up in the upper corner of the films from time to time to the unapologetically poetic sensibility shared by so many of the movies, these time cinematic capsules are a precious reminder of what life was like at that creative school where kids made art, made connections, and made sense of their world.

Only one of these films had any credits (at least on the cut found in that box in the film room), though the filmmakers and their peers would certainly be able to assign credit (or blame) pretty quickly. From my view so many years later, I choose to see them all as the manifestation of the spirit of creativity, brought to existence by the collective effort of student artists who lived life artistically.

Art is magical, and finding treasures like these is a treat for all of us, whether A&C was our school in the 90s, 00s, or today. My appreciation goes out to the students who helped to create this art, the current student who helped save it from the dangers of time, and everyone watching who give it new life again.

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1000 Words

In my quest to gather stories from Arts & Communication’s past I’ve been fortunate to meet and correspond with a number of amazing alumni, fabulous former staff members, and folks whose paths have led through the C.E. Mason building over the past seventy years. Digging around some storage rooms on campus, a campus that is slated for demolition this summer (only to rise again like a Phoenix in the fall of 2021), I’ve found old yearbooks, VHS tapes, some CDs, and DVDs of what the world at ACMA was like back in the day.

I think my favorites are the most antiquated: the browning paper of the photo albums from the 1990s; the old issues of the student newspaper, The Savant; and the cache of slides, at least two batches from the middle part of the 1990s.

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A few weeks ago some intrepid students located an old slide projector, loaded up the single carousel we could find, and took a photo off the wall in my office for journey back to Arts & Communication High School circa 1994.

The trip was fantastic.

slideshowIt was so fun, in fact, that I took the show on the road and shared the images with current students during a couple of lunches.

They dug it, marveling at the walls of their school not yet covered by murals, noticing fashions of the time, and laughing at the faces so much like their own. We didn’t have lots of context; we didn’t know who everyone was for example, so the unifying elements were campus, creativity, and the universally teenage expressions of artistic youth.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this slideshow was mid-90s Dickens novel.

We’ll work on capturing a higher quality version of the slideshow we can share online, but in the meantime I wanted to make something available right now. So…

I did something as simple as turning a camera toward the wall, putting a little music on the hi-fi, and letting the slide carousel turn in it’s 20th century way. It’s not high tech or polished, not the kind of official presentation you might see in the corporate world, heck, a couple of slides are in backward, but our school has never been constrained by conventionality or burdened by patience.

Click on the slide here and take a peek, if you’d like!

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I love seeing the faces in this show and knowing that our school was their school, and their A&C shares many of the good qualities I’m proud to see in ACMA today. While the world changes, and schools do too, there is something both familiar and inspiring in these photographs.

On February 1st we’re going to open our Quonset Hut (or “Cafegymnatorium” as one alum called it with a smile) for alumni to come to campus and share stories. This won’t be a formal affair; we really just want to provide an opportunity for folks who love this school to come back and spend some time together. On that night some of our current students will try to capture (on film, sound recordings, or interviews) some of the stories that help to make up our collective history. I’ll do my best to have some slideshows then, as well as some other photos and memory prompters from our school’s history.

As ACMA looks ahead at a bright future for the artists and free spirits who do and will call our little school home, it’s important to look back at the stories of those founding mothers and fathers on whose shoulders we stand. Some of those stories captured on little squares of cardboard and plastic.

 

 

Our Artsy Alumni gathering will take place on February 1, 2019 from 6:00-8:00 pm in the “Cafegymnatorium.” We welcome A&C and ACMA students and staff from any years of our school’s history, and look forward to some laughter, stories, and maybe even a little art. (And yes, I’ll walk you through the school, so you can see the murals, wainscoting, and smell that C.E. Mason old school smell one more time!)

The Moving Pictures of Blank Canvas Types

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“The kids were dedicated to walking their own paths, determined to celebrate the things they found for themselves and not the things the mainstream culture offered them. They were the kids with the leather jackets, the ‘weird’ haircuts and the love for music you didn’t hear on the radio. They marched to their own drum beat.” Film teacher Kevin Bennett smiled remembering his students from the mid 1990s. “All of them took on learning as something they did for themselves, discovering new philosophers, writers, books, bands and artists.  They were downtown Portland kids, at Powell’s Books and The Satyricon Nightclub and performing in their own bands or poetry readings. They were close to one another and supportive.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 1.38.52 PMPhotos from Arts & Communication High School’s early years are a beautiful reminder that our school has always been a home for those who think just a little differently. The colored hair, elaborate eye makeup, and not quite mainstream look that defined A & C then is one that feels familiar to students who walk our hallways today. Those photographs from the 1990s capture moments in time, but for a living breathing look at our school from that time one only needs to look as far as our student filmmakers.

Those student movies, taken with a clunky video camera perched atop a student’s shoulder, are moving pictures of a time at Arts & Communication that feels both as recognizable as today and somehow very, very long ago.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 1.20.19 PMThis fall, Adin, a current ACMA senior, took a box of dusty VHS tapes from the mid 1990s and went through the laborious effort of converting them to digital files. Boisterous, boozy, and comfortable showing everything from gunfights to cigarettes, these films are time capsules from an era when social expectations and rules of propriety seemed very, very different than they are at schools today. They are also beautiful moving images of our campus as it was during the Clinton administration.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 1.38.40 PMGot Orange?, a short film by Brandon Rubesh, Kevin Coe, and Tim Baldwin takes audiences inside the student lounge, down the hallways of a school before they were filled with murals, and out onto a backyard complete with a giant tree that toppled in a later windstorm. The portables are there, as is the principal’s office, but both look different than they do today, as does the blue trim of the school, the chalkboards and the thick TV’s of an age before contemporary computers, and a parking lot full of sharp edged cars and trucks. It’s fun, however, to see the halls filled with students making movies, laughing, and looking a lot like they do in 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 9.19.08 AMJay and Peter gave a wink and a nod to their filmmaking class in their offering How to Slack Off in Video 1. Students watching the film today marvel at the antiquated technology, the lack of a performing arts center, and the “extra” basketball hoop in the courtyard, yet they seen in these filmmakers the familiar wit of high school students, and the variety of camera angles taught to ACMA filmmakers today.

Capturing the sound and spirit of the ‘90s was Joe Carpenter’s music video, a meandering tour of campus that allows us to peek into classrooms as they were almost a quarter century ago. With the growl of grunge as a soundtrack, our flannel clad protagonist selects a CD, puts it absurdly on a record player, and proceeds to stroll, crawl, and lounge through campus showing a hundred little differences and more than a few similarities to campus today.

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 9.03.23 AMThere’s a beautiful iconoclasm to each of these filmmakers, and others whose content prompts the principal I am to not post them on YouTube. They are a reminder that for decades there has been no more filmed campus than ACMA.

These creative souls made the movies they wanted to make under the tutelage of an instructor who loved and valued them for who they were. As Mr. Bennett said: “They were the kids who ‘didn’t fit’ into the mainstream. They forged their own paths. That’s why so many of them were fearless enough to come to a school that had just been created. They were not interested in being a part of something that had already been formed, they were the blank canvas types, ready and willing to paint their own ideas and create their own experiences, to make a new kind of school.”

New Times

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 10.36.28 AMIn 1994 Arts & Communication High School was under construction. Hammers, saws, and pliers show up on the cover of the yearbook, and in a photo that could be a synecdoche for the year, the profoundly creative multi-faceted Mona Lisa just outside of the dance room in the main hallway is captured in progress, a work of art not quite done.

Art in progress was a reality at Arts & Communication in our school’s third year, just as it is with construction looming today.

Marisa Gonzalez was an eleventh grader that year, and one of three students to paint the film mural above room #104 in the front of the school. She and her friends Ian and Aaron “painted it as a project for Spanish class during our Junior year, with the promise to our teacher Susan McKinney we would be practicing our conversational Spanish while we were painting.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 10.42.14 AMMarisa recalled that “Susan was also my Ohana teacher that year. I remember how easy she was to talk to and coming to her with my ‘boy problems.’ That was probably one of the most refreshing things about the school, feeling like we were in a partnership with the teachers and that they valued our ideas. The teachers created the framework, but as students we were also able to help shape the school into what we wanted it to be. I think Tom Marsh had a lot to do with creating that culture of mutual respect between teachers and students. It was awesome to feel listened to by adults.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 7.57.57 AMThat respect and connection between staff and students has been a defining trait of Arts & Communication since the beginning, and is still one of the realities valued by the adults and students who make up our school. Rooted in the caring work of our founding mothers and fathers, care and kindness are as important in our history as art and communication.

The 1994-1995 school year marked a turning point for Arts & Communication, with the graduating class the “last of the original test group” who opened the school. Those 78 seniors were a creative bunch, painting, writing, working with clay, making music, and making a difference.

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 7.58.20 AM…and sometimes making mischief. Marisa, that muralist, also served on the yearbook staff and recalled “Yearbook was also a blast. I remember working weekends where it was just the yearbook staff and our supervisor Deb Monnier at the school, doing layouts. Back in those days it was all done by hand, cutting and pasting everything into place. Deb let us play music over the PA system (usually the Violent Femmes), and on breaks we would push each other on rolly chairs down the long ramp in the hallway. Deb would always warn us to be careful, and we would jokingly say, ‘Okay, Mom.’”

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 7.59.15 AMBut along with that laughter, and humming along to New Times some real learning, and long term skill building, sidled in alongside the silliness. Marisa added: “We loved our yearbook Mom and she taught us a lot. I’m now a graphic designer working on the yearbook that really helped give me a good foundation for my future career path. I had done yearbook in junior high, but there it felt more like the adults were in charge and we were just there to follow directions. With Deb, she let us take charge. It’s always nice as a teenager to have adults trust you. She even let us sneak a few ‘easter eggs’ into the yearbook. Our senior year, a couple of former students, Trevor and Mahlon, came by to visit. They had graduated the year before and were on the yearbook staff previously. Somehow we decided that it would be really funny if we snuck them into the yearbook. So we took their pictures and added them in among the actual seniors. I still giggle when I flip through my old 94/95 yearbook and see them in there.”

As the school evolved, becoming something more than a fledgling program, so too the building was remodeled to meet the growing needs of Arts & Communication. New science labs and a new stage sprang up on campus, the dust and wet paint a part of the school’s life throughout the year.

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Even amidst this hammering and sawing, at Arts & Communication the spirit of creativity flourished. Students photographed their world, performed on stage and off, and produced a yearbook complete with silly photos. 

Arts & Communication served as a place where those students in the silly photos became young adults, where they began to set the trajectory of their lives, lives as diverse and interesting as they were (and are) and colored by the imaginations fostered in classrooms on the evolving C.E. Mason campus.

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A few pictures from the 1995 yearbook, including two graduates from 1994.

Springing to Life

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One of the most shocking differences between campus in 1993 and 2018 is the greenhouse. Show photos of the place to current students and staff and jaws drop. “How big is that?” isn’t an uncommon reaction, nor is “Here?” But get past the images of lots of four-square courts, an extra basketball hoop, and powder blue trim on our building and you’ll see something familiar.

Students from 1993 look like they could walk ACMA’s hallways today. Looking at photos of young sculptors, painters, and musicians, the founding mothers and fathers of our school, is a reminder that while hairstyles change, the spirit of creativity is as strong as ever decade after decade.

IMG_9306In the second year of Arts & Communication, the creative spirit was very strong.

Jean Pence was the principal of Arts and Communication in 1993, and she remembers “walking into an old elementary school building that was trying to adjust to having high school students roam the halls and occupy the classrooms.” In its second year, this “fledgling program” was busy making art, making meaning, and figuring out what it meant to be someplace different.

“Sometimes we didn’t agree on what our mission was,” Jean remembered. “Sometimes there were struggles among the ninth and tenth grade team members and the eleventh and twelfth grade team members.  Sometimes there were struggles between the staff and the administration. Often there were misconceptions from the larger schools and community about our students. Students were bright and articulate, albeit dressing a bit different.”

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Those differences extended beyond clothing; students at A & C, as it was sometimes called, thought divergently and approached life and school from a different point of view. Playful, creative, and iconoclastic, most were focused on those two defining words: arts and communication.

IMG_9303You see that in the beautiful audacity of the artwork they created: giant sculptures, huge canvases, and lots and lots of poetry. Students wrote, danced, and made art. Music, movies, murals were all a part of life on a campus becoming its own.

By the spring of 1994 some of the most iconic Mona Lisa murals were up in the hallways: the flannel Mona Lisa, the Dog Mona Lisa, and the abstract Mona Lisa that hangs near the Tom Marsh Gallery today. Tom Marsh was teaching in 1993-1994.

IMG_9309During this second year, students were making the school theirs with a prom, open houses, and an end of the year picnic.

The program was growing in the 1993-1994 school year, like the plants in the greenhouse, nurtured by the sun of creativity, the water of hard work, and the constant tending of passionate people who cared deeply about the arts.

“tappity-click”

“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.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 10.03.49 AMIn 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.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 9.41.36 AMMixed 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.

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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.

IMG_9203Today, 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.

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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.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 10.03.33 AMIn 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.

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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.”

Growing Up

Just as the early 20th century doctor the school was named for was famous for his generosity, kindness, and caring, in the years between 1974 and 1992 the campus of C.E. Mason opened its arms for students of many experiences, challenges, and backgrounds. Beaverton’s Community School called C.E. Mason home beginning in 1980, and a highlight of those open arms years came when the area that was once the cafeteria became the home for Continuing Education for Young Parents program, often known as CEYP.

The basement, now the counseling office and once the cafeteria, held a nursery for children from one month to six years old. Parents entered through what is now the counseling office door and were able to see their children play just to the right, in what is now the lobby, study-room, file room, and bathroom. This area was divided by age groups and the other section of the basement held a space for tutorials, a small cafeteria, and a place for social gathering. It also was the place where the young parents would come to work on homework or prepare for tests.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 3.25.29 PMThe support staff for CEYP was located in the offices near the cafeteria, where they would help some students study for the GED. At the same time, other students would take general core and elective classes with the rest of the Community School “Masonites.”

These years marked the transition of campus from serving elementary students to seeing teenagers at C.E. Mason. Rooms built for youngsters were refurbished and remodeled for bigger kids. It was the start of our school’s life with an eye toward life in the years after school, helping young adults see futures where they could thrive.

Left alone, C.E. Mason might have remained a stable positive influence for years, but from the start this has always been a changing and evolving educational landscape, and as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, the spark of an idea appeared.

This little campus was about to be changed by one of the most powerful transformative powers around: Art.