Pirates and Thumbprints

My favorite yearbooks are the ones that veer completely from conventionality and make choices that are particularly bizarre. Yearbooks are the chronicles of a school, precious tomes that capture a whole year’s worth of memories between sturdy covers, they are records of a time that matters so dearly to students, books tucked away to be revisited decades later with a smile and blush of memory. So when yearbooks get kooky, some non sequitur on the cover or a bold and unexpected theme, I can’t help but admire the pluck of the editors and the willingness of the advisor to let her or his kids simply have fun.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 8.52.08 AMEnter pirates.

Now for the casual reader, someone maybe not tied to Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, I need to point out that our school does not have a mascot. We are not the Cougars or Mavericks or Vikings, we don’t shout “Go Mustangs!” at the big game (in part because there is no “big game” at ACMA, unless maybe you count the kids playing sharks and minnows at first lunch). So when I spotted the 2002-2003 ACMA yearbook I was struck by the jaunty fellow on the cover, peg legged, hook handed, with a parrot on the shoulder of his captain’s jacket.

Yes, anyone who knows me knows I dig pirates, but just as much I love creativity and the unexpected, and this yearbook offers both, as well as some nice nods to ACMA tradition and a sense of fun that shows up on every page.

One of those traditions is a page of Senior Thumbprints, signatures and stamped fingerprints for every graduate. This tradition, that honors diversity even as it includes everyone in an organized image, is a great example of that balance between individuality and cohesion that is ACMA at its best.

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The Senior Challenge is another tradition, now lost to time, that appears in this and other mid 2000s yearbooks. In 2002-2003 the challenge was to figure out long many metric feet long the class was. They didn’t quite make it. Senior Challenges haven’t been a part of more recent ACMA classes, but as we bid adieu to our C.E. Mason building, it strikes me as a good year to bring this one back.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 9.49.57 AMOther traditions have evolved over time. In 2003, ACMA had a more traditional formal court. These days the court is less constrained by formality or gender specifications, but looking at the posed images from ACMA’s early 21st century royalty is a reminder of where we’ve been.

Less formal are the staff photos, a playful lot, including half a dozen smiling adults (well, alleged adults) who still prowl the hallways of ACMA today. Seeing them then is a reassurance that even as we face great change, there is a certain stability that should reassure us that the heart of ACMA isn’t our building; it is our people.

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Many of those people joined clubs, very much on display in that pirate yearbook. Some are familiar (Dance West, National Honor Society, and Theatre Ensemble), and some delightfully unexpected (Brain Bowl and the Cross Country Ski Team), populate the yearbook, smiling students doing what they love.

Playful candids, and the “so very ACMA” incongruity of Yoda showing up on page 49. It’s a pirate yearbook, sure, but …Yoda.

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It wouldn’t be a vintage ACMA yearbook without a few misspellings, but no matter how you spell “Congratulations” the yearbook shouts that ACMA truth that there is a place for everyone in this colorful world of jazz, art, and creativity.

…and there’s a page simply titled: Attack of the Russian Toilet Paper Princess. This is not Beaverton High School.

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 9.50.29 AMIt certainly was not. As 2004 grad Gretchen remembered, “We were the most random smattering of kids that could express ourselves uniquely and be different without judgment. We each had our own claimed part of the L hallway- my spot was this old heater near the stairs to sit, dance around, and eat at- I only ate in the “cafetorium”- as we called it once the hideous stage was built (hah), on brown bag lunch performance days… For me it seemed like the best collaborations started to be born post-2002 and Art is my Voice, when we all realized that coming together could make pretty inspiring projects.”

Inspiring they were, and inspiring they are. The memories artwork that still whisper through our hallways like happy spirits haunting a sacred space make ACMA a magical place. So a decade and a half later, it’s fun to raise our goblet to the playful souls of years past, and especially that swashbuckling crew who put together ACMA’s only pirate themed yearbook (so far). Cheers to Moments to Treasure, a rollicking good adventure and a perfect window into Arts & Communication Magnet Academy.

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One More Try?

Why are you leaving,
You’re saying goodbye.
Why don’t you stay,
And give it one more try?
-Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic 2003

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A student editorial in 2001 lamented the changing face of C.E. Mason: “I think this used to be a place worth fighting for, but I worry that if I stay here any longer the fight will die in me as well. I am emotional, I am sensitive, and I care. I don’t ever want to stop caring. Not about what’s really important in life. Not about my education. And definitely not about people and being a decent human being,” the editor wrote. “This school may have at one time been worth the down sides. You would never have been able to take advanced math, or get expensive art supplies, or have big dances, but there was something here that overcame all that so this wasn’t just a place to go to school. It was home away from home.”

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 4.40.05 PMHome.

It’s a word you hear used by alumni and current students and staff present and past to describe our little school. Masonites, ACMAniacs, just about everyone who has spent time here understands that there is something special about the place, something familial, unique, maybe even a little quirky.

This was true at the opening of the school and shows itself in today’s ACMA, the only school I know of where a student might walk by in horns and hooves, not as part of a dress up day, but just because; where students eat lunch in the hallways and a stroll from one end of the building to the other could include a violin concert, students practicing pirouettes, or playing ukulele; and where one of this October’s biggest hits was Drag Night.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 3.40.53 PMIn the early part of the 21st century the changes coming to the school were seismic. New programs, new teachers, new focus on arts and academics changed the way the school walked through the world. It did not, however, change that creative spirit of the students. “Sensitive, caring,” as that newspaper editor described it, ACMA remained a place for creative souls, oddballs, and artists.

You can see the creative tension between the loose gambol of artists and the structured march of students completing a professional job in the two films that take a stab at answering the question: “What’s it like at ACMA?” There’s a certain cheeky truth to A Day in the Life of a Shadow absent from the more obviously sanctioned advertisement for Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Both do a great job of showing off campus circa 2002, but only one is obvious in capturing the pluck of the students of the time.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 3.40.45 PMBoth films show, however, that creativity isn’t bound by rules, and even when they try, those in power can’t completely control the creativity that courses through the veins of students. Nor, I would add, should they try. Students will always find ways to have their voices heard.

What flowed through ACMA in the early 2000s was an artistic energy that motivated students to create. Sometimes it was silly, like The Lonely Cheeseburger. Sometimes it was exuberant, like performances on the Quonset Hut stage. Sometimes it was in service to others, like the production of A Fairy’s Tale that ACMA students took out to delight elementary schools.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 4.05.17 PMAs refined as some would say ACMA was becoming, it was still the only school around with Mona Lisa on the cover of the yearbook, and a set of ACMA Mona Lisas at that, one heavy metal hair band, another punk rocker, a third Flavor Flav, and Mona Lisa Madonna rounding out the quartet.

Creativity was whispered on the wind. It appeared in wild celebrations of art like Kahlo’s View and Art is My Voice. It showed up as electric guitars and accordions.

Talk with students who were here at the start of the 21st Century and you’ll hear stories of stealing picnic baskets from behind the principal and trying to fit the whole senior class into two cars. By 2003 student artwork had returned to the pages of the yearbook. By 2004 the silly photos were as silly as ever.

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Visual arts and creative writing swelled in the curriculum right beside those advanced math classes the student editor from 2001 thought would never happen, though her editorial ended with an optimism that feels very much like the spirit of our school. “Our school may be dead,” she wrote “but I think it’s in every one of us, teachers and students, new and old, to bring about a change. I believe you all have integrity and good hearts. Maybe C.E. Mason is just lying dormant. Maybe it’s just waiting for a time when it’s safe to return.”

If the art of the time was any indication, things were changing at Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, evolving into a diverse array of creative expression. Alongside this artistic pursuit, a certain spirit held true, a spirit of good hearted mischief, care for each other, and belief in the power of art. Hindsight provides a clearer picture of these times, when creativity was shaking out of any perceived dormancy and stretching its wings to soar.

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The Elephant and the Dove

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 8.13.46 amThe ambitious project involved acting, dancing, and song, all in the service of celebrating the history of a visual artist, really two: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It was written and performed by ACMA staff and students, filmed by ACMA kids, and produced with images developed by ACMA artists. In 2002 Kahlo’s View captured the artistic energy of a school driven by creativity.

Kahlo’s View was a collaboration on the part of Theater and Dance and was the grand artistic expression at the end of that year’s “IT” (or Inter Thematic), which a teacher who was there at the time described as “what capstone was before it was capstone. It was a requirement, but of the whole school, the entire school participating with one theme at the center.”

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 1.28.42 pmSo when it came time for a spectacular spectacular, the production that would become Kahlo’s View was a natural culmination of a year’s creative study.

To watch Kahlo’s View today is to be wowed by the scope and aspiration of the project. The video of complete show, recovered from a single VHS tape tucked away in the dance office, shows a production hard to believe took place in a Quonset Hut.

Yet it did.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 1.37.40 pmDreamy and deliberate, moving and as symbolic as a Kahlo painting, the show meanders in and out of Kahlo’s memories, strikes emotional highs, and fills the stage with feelings as deep as a great artist (or ACMA teenager) might feel. With drama, pathos, tears, art, wailing, and a gnashing of teeth, Kahlo’s View has everything you could want in a bio-pic, along with more than a few interpretive dance numbers and a couple of songs.

Kahlo’s View was was written and directed by Rebecca Singer, ACMA’s drama teacher, and choreographed by Dance West’s Julane Stites. “We had gotten together once to discuss ideas” Stites told me, “and really never rehearsed again until we put it together for the tech rehearsal. We were both blown away at how our work blended. It was as if we had had a million rehearsals together.”

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 1.49.46 pmThe actors and dancers, students at ACMA who cared deeply about art, inhabited their roles completely. From words to movement, song to spectacle, they became the artists they were celebrating.

The Elephant and the Dove, as Kahlo called Rivera and herself, were the embodiment of the larger than life existence of unapologetically creative souls. They resonated with ACMA students and staff who saw in them two patron saints for the artistic life they were choosing for themselves.

At this point in its history ACMA was cementing its sense of self as a haven for artists of all kinds, a place that demanded artistic integrity, and a community that supported the creative enterprise. Students at ACMA had, were, and would think divergently, perform fearlessly, and live life with the hearts of artists. They were as powerful as elephants and as tender as doves.

Two Promises

Only two promises: no speeches and no snacks. In the improvisational spirit of ACMA (and C.E. Mason before that), this Friday we’re opening the doors to the Quonset Hut to welcome in any former students and staff from our school to connect with each other, tell stories, and take one last tour of campus before the wrecking crew arrives in July.

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I understand the powerful connections folks have with our little school. Some places talk about school spirit; we talk about the profound power of love and art. This year, as I’ve had the pleasure capture some of the stories from ACMA’s past, I’ve been privileged to talk with more than a few former students and staff and without exception the memories they share (salty and sweet) buzz with emotion

20170930_110547Kreeya told me about walking through the doors of the old C.E. Mason school, past Mary’s front office, following the bend in the hall, past four or five Mona Lisa renditions, and arriving at the Tom Marsh Gallery. “The gallery was initially conceived as an homage to a favored teacher,” she said. “It also provided a creative use for a space that was essentially a storage unit for years. Students had almost total control of creative processes at our school.”

James reached out in the fall and said “for me personally, I believe that staff and group of peers are the only thing that kept me engaged enough to not just walk away from traditional high school and get my GED and/or burn my home high school down.”

Peter shared a video with me, smiling as he told me that as the story of ACMA got told, for sure Mr. Sikking’s performance of “Santa Baby” needed to be a part of that grand adventure.

screen shot 2018-10-30 at 10.03.11 amFriday I hope we’ll hear more of those stories.

And if we do, if alumni arrive willing to share meaningful memories, I think we’ll be ready. Some of our current student filmmakers will be on hand ready to commit those stories to film; my current yearbook staff, chroniclers of our school’s history, will be there to interview former students and staff; and we’ll do our best to give an opportunity to everyone who has a tale to tell.

I’ll do my best to have some photos and other artifacts on hand to help melt away the years, and depending on how many folks visit, I’ll host a few tours of the main building, so people can say their goodbyes to Mona Lisa, well, Mona Lisas to be more apt.

And if people can’t make it, not to worry; we’ll do our best to continue to celebrate our school and the stories that make up our history online as well as in person. We’re building an archive now, and look forward to sharing more as we dance toward the future together. No speeches. No snacks. Just spirit.

 

For anyone planning to attend our little gathering on Friday, February 1, 2019, we’ll open the Quonset Hut doors at 6PM. There’s no set program, so feel free to drop by any time before 8PM when we’ll call it a night (at least on campus; I’ll wager a few might adjourn to a coffee and conversation afterward).

The Box

We don’t know what’s in the box. 5½” by 8½” by 12”, metal, and welded shut, it has sat in the principal’s office for more than a decade. The story goes that it was unearthed behind a wall of the old C.E. Mason Elementary building when a heavy iron plaque was relocated years ago.

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The box weighs six pounds, for my analytical friends, though this is ACMA, so I should probably simply say that it’s the color of winter wheat still soaked after a morning rain.

Rumor has it that the box is a time capsule, though from when no one seems to know.

Orestes Yambouranis, who was a teacher at Arts & Communication before it was an academy, remembered that the custodian, Will Templar, found it and gave to the principal. When, he couldn’t quite remember.

Knowing that the bulldozers and a wrecking ball are rumbling toward campus this summer, I dusted off the box and hope to gather together some students and open it in February. It’s 2019, so I think it would be fun to livestream. Who knows who might want in on a little ACMA adventure.

Until then, I’ll put it where people can take a look, maybe make a guess as to when it was put in the ground and what we might find inside. I can honestly say that even with the research I’ve been doing on ACMA and C.E. Mason, reaching back to the 1940s and its construction, I have no idea which group of Masonites or ACMAniacs filled this box and tucked it away.

Heck, I’m not even sure if it is a time capsule.

So if anyone reading this post has a memory of the box, please let me know! If anyone has a guess, or a dollop of curiosity, come back in a month or so and I’ll post what we find inside. Knowing our little school, it could be anything.

“Tear stained pictures of younger days…”

Well I felt so bad when I heard that song,
Ya know it’s been such a long long time,
It’s a little offbeat and it ain’t in tune ya know it’s just like this heart of mine…
-Exploding Hearts, 2003

screen shot 2018-12-14 at 1.14.12 pmJeremy used to sneak into Mr. Bennett’s film class to listen to records when he should have been somewhere else. “I would catch him, usually more than half way through a film class, sitting in the back of the room, headphones on, listening to my record collection,” Mr. B remembered. “He’d look up from The Dead Kennedys, The Talking Heads, Ray Charles, or Johnny Cash, hoping to stay.”

Adam skated. In addition to playing bass, like so many 1990s teenage boys, he rode his skateboard with the daredevil abandon of exuberant youth. Seeing clips of him, and a pack of other Masonites, skating is a lesson in fearless teenagerdom.

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screen shot 2018-12-14 at 1.13.26 pmMatt was the cool kid, the kid in the leather jacket with the sensitive heart. He was serious and deep. Not long after Matt left ACMA, Mr. Bennett recalled that he “bumped into him at Starbucks and we sat down and had a coffee. He told me all about the band and how they had gotten a positive review in Rolling Stone. He looked happy after so much time being less so. It was this really positive meeting and then he was gone.”

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 12.13.05 pmTerry graduated from ACMA in 2001, already a rock and roller, whose yearbook photo struck a pose that belonged on an album cover. “What was your preferred method for leaving campus early?” a yearbook editor posed him. “I’d just lay in the backseat of someone’s car who had early release,” he answered. Rock and roll.

They played in a band, actually a few bands, during their C.E. Mason years. The Iguanas, the Silver Kings, FU. Walk into Mr. Bennett’s classroom today and you’ll find a 45 record of the Iguana’s inscribed with a message from Jeremy on the wall.

But it was after their time at A&C that Jeremy Gage, Adam Cox, Matt Fitzgerald, and Terry Six made musical history as the band Exploding Hearts.

heartsLen Comaratta provides a brief history of the band in his 2011 “Dusting ‘Em Off” column, describing Exploding Hearts as “post-punk” and “power pop – pure, unabashed pop rock & roll, with catchy hooks and instantly memorable melodies.” Wild and uninhibited, Exploding Hearts careened across the landscape of American music like a teenager in a recycling bin on top of a skateboard flying downhill.

Masonites from the mid ‘90s will know what I’m talking about.

Exploding Hearts harnessed the four rebels’ iconoclastic energy and created a collection of ten songs that feels as vital today as it was when it was released more than a decade ago. Listening to Guitar Romantic, their 2003 album, is an adventure in swagger, performance, and poetry.

As critic Chris Deville wrote, Guitar Romantic was filled with “sterling songs executed with unimaginable vitality, and every song on this album was a walk-off home run followed by a raging kegger.” Rock and Roll.

Guitar Romantic was (and is) a fantastic album and stands as magical musical legacy for this quartet of Masonites. It’s a reminder of the energy and artistry of a wildly talented and creatively fearless young band.

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So many years later, it’s cool to realize that these shooting stars of rock and roll roamed the same hallways here at ACMA, then C.E. Mason, that classical legend Morten Lauridsen did back in the 1950s. Music takes so many forms, various and inspiring.

But then, as stories sometimes do, things turned tragic.

The most moving version of this part of the story that I’ve heard comes from another former A&C student, Lisa, who captured her memories of the band, the people, and the accident that ended the lives of three of the four band members in 2003. Anyone interested in our school’s story owes it to themself to check out Lisa’s essay, “Shatter My Heart.” Try not to cry. I couldn’t.

Every morning we begin the day at ACMA with music played through the school rather than a first bell. Tomorrow morning the song selection will be from Guitar Romantic.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

What happens when an artist splashes the wrong color on a painting, or the sculptor watches her armature buckle under the weight of the clay?

They recover, blot up the paint, pick up the pieces, and get about making art.

Jazz musicians don’t stop when a trumpet misses the note, or the piano drops a phrase. They can’t. Their art compels them. When the song goes kittywampus and the audience is in that free fall of uncertainty, what is it that the best musicians do?

Lean into it.

And those actors over in the theatre, what is it they say when they’re improvising?

They say: Yes, and…

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As the 20th century disappeared, the world starting to worry about the Y2K bug and listening to Prince’s ode to 1999, life at Arts & Communication Magnet Academy shifted gears. Was it different than it had been before? Yes, and…      

After the changes: staff, policy, and vision, school opened in the fall.

Beneath the circular portico, from which the words “C.E. Mason” had been removed, life kept going at Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Students painted and drew, made music, made art, and began to dance.

“That first year was rough,” remembered Judy Chown, who came to ACMA as a staff member in 1998. “The District wanted a magnet school but that was not communicated clearly to the parents and staff. The staff was upset, and some left at the end of that year. The parents were upset and the students were upset. We began a PTA that year and the meetings sometimes had 200 angry parents shouting at the principal, unhappy with the perceived changes. There were some wonderful parts to the old; the sense of security and community, art as a focus, but the old A&C needed a makeover, and we took on the challenge with a vengeance.”

While the ACMA staff set about creating a mission statement — a challenge that led some to walk out of the initial staff meetings and later the school itself, branding the school, and articulating its arts focus, the students at ACMA did what they did best: create. Pushing up against the world, students embraced their free spirited sense of adventure and made art.

Look in The Savant, ACMA’s new school newspaper, and you’ll find a two page spread on the music scene at “our own Rock and Roll High School.” Cataloguing student bands, including the band-hopping intrigue of talented student musicians, the article ends with the line: “Are you surprised at the amount of talent your high school has? You shouldn’t be. Have pride and respect for your Rock and Roll High School. There is no other quite like it.”

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There certainly was no other place quite like it; ACMA was not a comprehensive high school, and proudly so. As Amelia Romaine, the editor of the 2001 yearbook, wrote: “To say that you go to a school that’s out of the ordinary shows you really care about what you are doing with your education. You’ve taken the next step to show you will not be pushed around and that you value your personal voice.”

Students were finding ways for their voices to be heard at this changing school. Things were different than they had been, but as Shanyelle King said at the time: “It’s not the rules that make this school great, or the amount of money that’s in the budget. What makes this school great is the people who walk down the halls every day; the teachers who don’t mind taking a few minutes away from their energy packed lectures to inspire you; the students who support and inspire one another. This school’s spirit isn’t necessarily about football teams and pep rallies, it’s about people caring about each other and creating an environment in which the students and teachers care enough to want to show up.”

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 8.22.03 amOne of the fundamental changes in the opening years of the 21st century was the emergence of dance at ACMA, and Dance West in particular. Over the years few programs have matched this pre-professional company, which has launched students to dynamic professional lives of dance.

This addition of more performing arts broadened ACMA’s creative world, with vocal music, orchestra, and theatre filling the Quonset Hut with artistic energy. For more than a decade this unconventional space would see performances wild and unexpected, polished and professional, serious and sometimes nutty.

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 8.54.53 amTo reflect that expanded artistic landscape, ACMA went in search of a logo. Peter Han, now a professional artist and then a painter with as clear an artistic vision as community mindset, listened to the comments of a student volunteer group. “The next morning, he met me at my office door at 7:30 a.m.” Judy Chown remembers “and said. ‘Is this what you had in mind?’ He had drawn the new logo that we used for around 8 years.”

Student ownership, even as adults made changes prompted by budget and bureaucracy, was very real at ACMA. As the 2003 budget crisis threatened to shutter the district’s arts academy, and, as Judy Chown remembers, “from November through the end of the year, teachers, administration, staff, and students testified and made passionate pleas before the school board in order to save our program,” students made art.

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Drawing, painting, sculpting, ACMA students brought technicolor creativity to a world of black and white. Looking back at the canvases and into the sketchbooks of the early 2000s reminds us that the world through teenage eyes looks different than it does to those over thirty.

Peter Han did more than logos, capturing his teachers in a Star Wars mashup. Yambo as Yoda? Check. Obi-Wan Tateoka? Yep. Kevin Bennett as an Ewok? But of course.

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Kara Kerpan remembers “shadowing for a day as an 8th grader to decide if ACMA was the school for me. I was instantly sold when I saw people playing music in the hallways. I also loved that there was a slew of ‘greaser’ guys with slicked back hair!” Hardly strictly domesticated.

Later, as a student, she told me that “my friends and I had a disagreement over dress code and free expression with the principal and it was featured in the Oregonian. Then there was the field trip to the ape caves that left all the students soaking wet and giddy on a long bus ride back to Beaverton. That school really embraced us ‘weirdos’ and gave us a place to be creative and thrive.”

And, inexplicably, there were accordions. So very ACMA.

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 8.18.39 amBy the time in 2003 that ACMA added 6th graders to the student body, it had truly become a magnet, not alternative school, and inside the students carried with them the marvelously, unapologetic “weirdo” DNA of those early pioneers who had called C.E. Mason home. Many of those first students had graduated or were gone, their passing lamented by current students who had shared (or heard stories about) the early years of the school, but their legacy lived on, sometimes openly and sometimes, as that article about rock and roll suggested, “underground.”

Students had always made their own way, and now they were moving into the 21st century with the creative, sometimes rebellious, and improvisational attitude of Yes, and…