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…

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This is the end…

My goal in sharing some Arts & Communication history has never been to write either a hagiography or exposé, but rather to capture a little bit of what the school was like in years gone by. That means digging into old boxes buried in storage, reaching out to former students and staff to ask questions, and following leads wherever they go in search of stories worth telling. It also means hearing voices that don’t only walk on the sunny side of the street. It means embracing our school’s identity as a place of artists and divergent thinkers (certainly) and also rebels and hippies and scruffy headed nerf herders.

The late 1990s saw big changes at our little school, and to do that time justice it’s important to look not only at the official history. After all, it was an ACMA grad who told me: “ ACMA taught me that history is propaganda.” Perhaps it is.

This modest collection of memories is far from comprehensive. For every story I’m able to share another hundred swirl in the collective memory of past students and staff. Some of those stories are far richer and more complete than any I’ve told or will tell, and I think that’s okay too.

It doesn’t mean that I won’t keep chasing stories, sharing those I can, and doing my best to be, as Shakespeare called it, “a cipher to this great accompt.” That said, I know I can’t do it alone.

Another former A&C student wrote to me to share his memories from the fall of 1999, prefacing his story with these words: “this is my experience, and an unspoken history that most don’t remember and if they do, they probably gloss it over. Here it is…”

And so, to my Masonites and ACMAaniacs, here is another view of our school, circa 1999…

 

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Right now I see how quickly all of the things that have made C.E. so admirable are diminishing. There are moments when I walk down the hall and feel like a stranger at a school that I’ve felt at home in for four years. It’s as though the halls don’t want to keep me in their arms anymore, they only want to push me through. After all, it is not the halls that made our school what it is, but the incredible people inside them. Now many of those people are gone, and those still here are lagged down with the same feeling, and have little energy to hold on. This energy has been the life force behind our school from the beginning. Without it, it is doomed for failure, no matter what form it may take in the years to come. There is no question in my mind that the spirit of C.E. Mason is on its last legs. This friend that we all have grown so close to is dying.”     -Ellen Greer, 1998-1999 Arts & Communication High School Yearbook.

Arts & Communication started as a big idea. Creativity, art, freedom, these were the watchwords of the founding mothers and fathers, the students and staff who took up residence in the sturdy building that had once been C.E. Mason Elementary. In these wainscoted hallways, in the Quonset Hut that had been a gym before it was a theatre, and in the converted classrooms that had once taught reading and writing to the postwar youth of Beaverton, this intrepid group of adventurers slashed a trail through the overgrown jungle of possibility.

Then, not yet ten years in, changes came to C.E. Mason that felt to some like clear cutting had come to the rainforest.

“Magnet Academy” got added to “Arts & Communication” and with it came policy changes about maintaining a specific grade point average, auditioning to get in, and more.

screen shot 2019-01-07 at 1.19.02 pmSome things looked the same; students still made music, wrote poetry, and shot and edited their own films. Sculpture, painting, and drawing mattered much, and if you were looking for the school with the most young novelists, A&C was the place, but the silly mug shots weren’t quite as silly as some years past, you’ll find no poetry or student cartoons in the 1998-1999 yearbook. At one point in the year the readerboard out in front of the school read: ARTS + COMMUNICATION = ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.

One student from the time called it the “domestication” of Arts & Communication. Others chose words that wouldn’t be reprinted in a family newspaper.

There was still a spirit of iconoclasm in the students and some of the staff. Tim, who graduated in 1998 remembered his final day at A&C:

“As was tradition, light hearted pranks on favorite teachers occurred with regularity during this final week. We had been warned to keep it light and safe and to not damage the building or people, but very few of us heeded the warning. On our final day, a small band of A&C warriors hatched a plan to prank Orestes Yambouranis.”

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“What had to have been a months’ worth of paper towels and toilet paper were pilfered from the custodian. The group then proceeded to TP the entirety of Yambo’s room. Every light fixture, every window, and surface that could be covered in paper…was. The effect was otherworldly, creating a disorienting effect with ropes of paper towels hanging like vines from the ceiling. I’ll never forget the reaction we got from Yambo. A momentary flash of shock, and then utter boyish glee “It’s better than snow!” he exclaimed as the whirled through the maze of paper screens pulling them down on top of himself.”

As Tim told me this fall, “this simple send off prank typifies my experience at A&C, with staff and students often experiencing moments of shock that quickly were replaced with glee.”

Some, it seems, stayed shocked.

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Talking with students from the late 1990s is an experience in torn hearts and raw emotion. Even years later, for many their memories of school are complicated and understandably sad.

I had coffee with Peter, whose student film made it in an earlier post in this little history. He remembered the school-altering change that occurred when a new policy required all students to retain a 2.0 grade average or be told to leave the school. Students who fell below a 2.0 received a letter informing them that they were no longer allowed to stay at Arts & Communication High School. It was a sea change from the earliest days of A&C, a shift that left many reeling.

Peter captured his experience in his heartbreaking essay The Day I Crucified Myself, a reminder to any of us in education just how much our actions matter to those students who make up our schools.

And Peter wasn’t alone.

Lisa left A&C around the same time as Peter, on to pursuits of her own beyond the walls of C.E. Mason. Looking back now on the time now, a creative adult whose life has transcended any teenaged experience, there was a smile in her words as she told me “What a brilliant assembly of creative degenerates we were!”

When the school opened in 1992, as one early staff member said, the only students who were daring enough to come to A&C were kids who’d gotten Ds or Fs. Now they weren’t allowed to stay.

It reminded some of that Doors song:

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes again”

The end.

For some students, like Peter, the end was all too real. For some, like yearbook editor Ellen, the end came with graduation and the lingering fear that “all those like me who need a school like this” may “fail because they never had a chance to succeed.”

A couple of student filmmakers made a video eulogy, an Ode to C.E. Mason …to the tune of Johnny Cash’s San Quentin.

For a generation of C.E. Masonites, something special was over.

And…

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“Be bold and creative and unique”

Kreeya attended Arts & Communication High School from 1995 to 1998. She was in Mr. Bennett’s and then Mrs. Von Bergen’s Ohana, and remembers the school offering video production, creative writing, publications, printmaking, painting, ceramics, Japanese, Spanish, horticulture, and photography. “I hesitate to mention just how little math and science (which were only offered as electives) I received during those years,” she recalls. “Those were experimental times, after all.”

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But even more than the classes offered, A&C was defined by its culture, and Kreeya explained that “once in, it was easy to find oneself in something of a culture shock. At Arts & Communications High School it was normal routine to see students sprawled in the hallways with sketch books, teachers and students engaged in conversation about current affairs, and groups of teenagers with colorful hair, unlikely piercings, and counterculture fashion mingling in the student lounge. It was the late 90’s. Teenagers were finding their subcultures. There were ravers and industrial kids. Goths and punks. There were people who wore capes and those who spent their days devoted to artistic pursuits.”

Those artistic pursuits yielded profound results, both in terms of art and artists. Students would leave A&C and go on to be professional musicians, artists, teachers, and activists. They would go into politics and theatre, social work and fashion. The adults they would become, engaged, creative, and passionate about their pursuits, were forged at least in part by their time in school, when as they created art, students at C.E. Mason created their community.

screen shot 2018-11-30 at 10.25.30 am“What we didn’t have in academics, we made up for in social and emotional education,” Kreeya explained. “It was in high school that I first saw democracy in action. I felt the power of giving people a voice, even if no action could be taken. I felt valued in the community, like I could make a difference just by being there. Students were allowed to take risks and make mistakes. Often our teachers were closer to us than parents and were able to give the kind of guidance we needed in the moment. We had monthly all-school ‘Town Hall’ meetings where students aired grievances and offered suggestions. We painted murals to make our environment reflect our interests and sense of humor.”

IMG_7358Those murals still look down on ACMA students, and that spirit of community, those connections between students and staff, and that attitude that invites risks and mistakes are alive and well. More than most places, ACMA welcomes those students still finding themselves, as the founding mothers and fathers did in the 1990s. The care and connection those students brought to our school has lasted longer than any individual faculty member, any administration, or any policy at ACMA. The foundation of respect, acceptance, and understanding of the power of art is as solid now as it was then.

This winter Kreeya told me that long after graduation she “was approached by a mutual friend who graduated from AMCA in 2001. He pulled me aside and thanked me and our generation of students. He said that we had set a standard for what it meant to be treated with respect as a student. He said that those early years inspired other classes of learners to be bold and creative and unique. He mentioned how powerful it was to walk down the same halls, following a well worn path of youthful artistic expression. Those earliest years helped all that followed visualize an artist identity. It made it seem attainable. Now just about 25 years later, that history of success in the creative fields is ingrained in the culture of the school and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that.”

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All those students, from the 90s, the 2000s, and beyond should feel proud of the contributions they made. The way hasn’t always been easy (the next couple of posts will be a nod to that, so hang on tight if you like the happy parts of stories, I promise it will all come around in the end), and the path to where ACMA is today is certainly full of bends and switchbacks, hills and obstacles, but thanks to the compass created by these early students, with a true north that points toward what matters most, the journey continues to move in the right direction.

screen shot 2018-12-03 at 9.32.19 am“Some years after high school,” Kreeya told me “Mrs. Von Bergen came into the sandwich shop I worked at. ‘That school was a moment in time,’ she said as she rounded out her greeting.”

Indeed it was, and even more, it was the start of something bold and creative and unique.

Transitions and Traditions

Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all a patter and a pitter.”    – JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

We’re moving this year. Every program, every classroom, every teacher, every student, we’ll spend the winter going through old things, the spring packing, and the summer relocating eleven minutes up the road to our temporary digs in an enormous middle school building that has served as a home to a series of schools under construction and has yet to open itself. That’s a role our own campus played back in the 1970s, and as we cash in that good karma some folks are a little nervous.

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Like Bilbo in Tolkien’s epic, we’re challenged to lift our little swords, allow our hearts to pitter patter, and go forward. But read that opening quotation again and you’ll notice that as he does,  that intrepid Hobbit keeps one hand on the wall, feeling his way through the darkness with the help of a familiar support.

For us, that familiar wall is the C.E. Mason Elementary building that has been home to Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, and Arts & Communication High School before that, ever since our school has been in existence.

Over the past quarter century students have been making art and making meaning in the same classrooms, making friends and making mischief in the same hallways, and making a difference in a thousand different ways after graduating from our little school.

The memories that saturate our walls are as much a part of the building as the murals students have painted on the plaster over the years. The wainscoting hums with stories; the gallery of Mona Lisas look down with enigmatic smiles; and in the courtyard the echoes of decades old laughter  mingle with the shouts of our current students and their almost daily games of Sharks and Minnows.

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Even as the wrecking balls roll onto campus this summer, we’re keeping some of the wainscoting to use for our reception area in the front office of the new building and the circulation desk in the new library. The murals invite a variety of approaches, as we capture images of the paintings that we can take with us and devise ways to honor their spirit, even as 1940s building materials mean we can’t pull the walls out intact. And as we trundle our traditions into the metaphoric bindlestiff we’ll sling over our shoulder in July, we’re also wise to keep a space (both physically and spiritually) for the murals still to be painted on the walls of a building that doesn’t yet exist.

20170930_110547Michelle Young, Saul Roberts, and all the many names signed beneath the student artwork from years gone by will be joined in our school’s history by new names, some current students, some newborns today who will be painting on the walls of an ACMA campus when they graduate in 2037.

That campus hasn’t yet been built, but it will be, and when it is those walls will hold stories as rich as the memories already made in our current home.

Memories from former students like…

Kristen, who told me about the weekend of the junior/senior prom when her Ohana spent the night in the school. “Our group of about twelve people met up at an Italian restaurant in Beaverton — Giovanni’s.  From there, those of us with cars headed to the high school (some people walked), with Mr. Yambouranis chaperoning us. The boys were to stay in the library; the girls in the Ohana classroom, which was the one at the far end of the building, across from the drinking fountain that had a mural of tiles and the office. Of course, no one really followed those rules!  We used the TVs and Laserdiscs to watch a bunch of film, including The Goonies, Rock & Roll High School, and the “new” episodes of “The Simpsons” and “The X-Files” that aired on Fox.  Yambo retired for the night in the nurse’s office near midnight.” I can see the smile on her face as she recalled the adventure: “Several of us did some exploring.”

Spencer, who remembered “Mr. Sikking feverishly describing philosophy and the hero’s journey as he asked questions and then ran to overhead to underline the point 3 or 4 times.” And once, “after we had reached some sort of fundraising goal for the school, Mr. Sikking performed Santa Baby in a sexy Mrs. Claus neglige on stage for the whole school.” It was, he remembered, “one of the most ACMA things that comes to mind.”

And Lily, who, when talking about things being so “very ACMA,” told the audience at her graduation that it would be impossible to look back on “Cooper and Will’s concert ­light­show or Brock’s amazing film about cannibalism without feeling like this place is at least a little bit different. I remember hanging cellos up on the curtain rail in Mr. Brandau’s room, scream­ singing “Africa” by Toto at karaoke night, and making a film about a plastic lawn coyote.” So very much in keeping with the spirit of our school.

IMG_9676These stories won’t disappear when the bulldozers arrive in July. As the Quonset Hut that has served as gym and cafeteria, and performance hall is knocked to the ground; the basement that has been a cafeteria, counseling office, day care, and television studio is filled in; and the portables that have been the epicenter of more art, movies, music, and dance than any portables in the history of the world are carted away, the memories will be as alive as they have always been.

Our school is magical not because of the walls we touch as we lift our little swords and move forward; our school is magical because of the people who inhabit it: those whose daily life on campus was years ago, those who call it home today, and those whose paths will lead our way in the decades to come.

A friend who recently retired from ACMA had told me that she isn’t sure if the new building will ever feel to her like home. It’s an honest response to a big transition, and one that I know is echoed in other hearts as well. “I’m willing to keep an open mind,” she tells me, “but…”

There is a world of worry in that ellipses.

There is also an opportunity. I keep her, and all those creative, sensitive, and fantastic souls of students and staff no longer on campus in mind as I do my best to honor the spirit of our school as we embark on this transition. Knowing that to go back is “No good at all!” To “Go sideways? Impossible!” Going forward is the only thing to do, and we will do so mindfully, courageously, and with a clear sense of who we are.

Bilbo Baggins was not defined by his time in the Shire; he left for adventures, whether he thought himself ready or not, and while he brought himself and his history to every step along the path, he returned to his home in the hill richer and more creative than he could have imagined.

Our school is no less than that adventurous Hobbit.

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I believe that my retired friend will step into the new building that opens in the fall of 2021 and know that this is home, not because of the wainscoting repurposed for the front desk or familiar student artwork in the hallways, but because of the spirit of our school —creative, kind, and accepting— that is as true on our current campus as it would be if we held classes in a circus tent, on a cruise ship, or at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We’ll be no place as exotic for the next two years, but the creativity and curiosity we bring with us to that big empty building on 118th Street will make it feel as if it were.

hobbitAnd then, in August of 2021, we’ll move back. Back to building constructed to be an art school, a structure that honors our school’s past while looking toward its future. There will be familiar faces (Mona Lisa, David Bowie, Leonidas), and plenty of new faces as well. And as we start making art and making meaning, making friends and maybe a little mischief, our new space will (over time) begin feeling simply like our space.

Some will say it’s an aspirational sentiment, but I honestly believe that the next few years will be an adventure that can share the same subtitle as Tolkien’s Hobbit, living up to the reassuring and very real words: “There and back again.”

Gallery

An art school needs an art gallery. That makes sense. In 1995, for an art school housed in a building that was constructed as an elementary school almost fifty years earlier, having an art gallery meant making an art gallery. And that meant work.

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In the fall of 1995 it was Arts & Communication students who rolled up their collective sleeves and transformed a space that had been an office and switchboard room in another life into something special. Debbie Teeter, an A & C staff member at the time, recalled that “the walls were wood and we primed and painted them white. That primer was noxious!”

Fumes didn’t slow down the students.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 1.52.43 PMThey prepped and painted, set up space to hang paintings, drawings, and photographs, and built plinths to hold sculpture. By its opening, the gallery smelled better, and the folks who came in to see the student art witnessed something special: a big step forward for the little art school that could.

When it came to naming the gallery, and all good galleries should have names, the choice was easy.

Tom Marsh was a member of Arts & Communication’s original core staff, and his student centered approach to education helped shape the school. Before his time at A & C he’d worked on staff at Beaverton’s Community School and taught Social Studies at Sunset High. With a perspective on governance learned in part as a member of the Oregon House of Legislature from 1975 to 1979, he didn’t just teach government and civics, he lived them, and he encouraged in his students to have a voice.

IMG_9290Those voices sometimes manifested themselves in art, like the clay masks that hung above the black stencil reading: TOM MARSH GALLERY.

You can spot Tom Marsh in student films from his time at A & C, usually playing the heavy in a parody of some kind (advising James Bond, counseling Luke and Darth Vader). There’s a playfulness there that one can imagine was a part of his teaching life as well.

If we describe those early 1990s students as the founding mothers and fathers of our school, Tom Marsh might be thought of as ACMA’s guiding grandfather.

Today the masks that those students put on the wall above the Tom Marsh Gallery are still there, and they’ll be brought with us to our new building and reinstalled exactly as they are now in the fall of 2021. Art schools need art galleries, and ACMA needs the Tom Marsh.

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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.

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!)