A Spectacular Parade

What will make it spectacular will be the students. Artists, actors, dancers, and musicians, photographers, poets, and performers of all types, these ACMA students will collaborate this February to fill our school with an astonishing extravaganza: The ACMA Spectacular!

The ACMA Spectacular is a joint effort between our school and Parent Teacher Organization. Replacing the auctions of yesteryear, The ACMA Spectacular is our biggest fundraiser of the year, with ticket sales for the performance going to help support students and programs, opportunities to purchase artwork at the event, and fun ways to support the school while getting a little something as a prize like live caricatures by our drawing students or copies of our literary magazine or student literature anthology.

At a place where so many departments produce amazing work, this is the one time of the year when everyone works together to celebrate the kaleidoscopic delight that is Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. The ACMA Spectacular will live up to its name.

Spectacular_2020_Poster

…and it will be different. Delightfully so.

For nearly thirty years ACMA has been tucked away on a little campus off of Center Street, and for the past decade most performances have taken place in our beautiful performing arts center. This year that campus is a flat lot, an expanse of dirt the blank canvas on which our new building will emerge. The new building will attach to the PAC, a fact that’s good for kids, but right now means that our most beloved venue is surrounded by chain link construction fencing. It is a reality that invites innovation.

At ACMA we know how to innovate.

So with this time of change in our minds and the energy that comes from improvisation filling our creative soul, this year’s ACMA Spectacular will embrace the notion of upheaval and take as its theme art in motion, a parade.

Specifically, Picasso’s 1917 ballet Parade. A performance of the ballet, complete with ACMA designed costumes and sets, is the starting point and one of three centerpieces of this year’s ACMA Spectacular. 

Parade was actually written by writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, with music by “gymnopedist” composer Erik Satie, and surrealistic sets and cubist costumes designed by Pablo Picasso. Their early 20th century collaboration was novel to say the least, and the result left Parisian audiences as confused as they were delighted. 

The story goes that E.E. Cummings was at the premiere of Parade, and dug the surrealist experience. I like to imagine that the show at least helped to inspire his 1924 poem…

Picasso
you give us things
which
bulge:grunting lungs pumped full of sharp thick mind

you make us shrill
presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of
simplicity

(out of the
black unbunged
Something gushes vaguely a squeak of planes
or

between squeals of
Nothing grabbed with circular shrieking tightness
solid screams whispers.)
Lumberman of the Distinct

your brain’s
axe only chops hugest inherent
Trees of Ego,from
whose living and biggest

bodies lopped
of every
prettiness

you hew form truly”

And sure Picasso’s costumes were clunky, made of wood and cardboard, and the set tilted with shapes and angles, the work of a painter, not designer. And yes, the music slips into ragtime during the show (and ragtime ballet is not a rich genre …yet). And yep, the story was about a group of artists struggling  to gather an audience for their show, busking the streets of Paris, trying to capture the attention of passersby. But a century later the idea of Picasso’s Parade is as rich with possibilities as it was on the day before opening night 1917.

Such collaboration and innovation is something we’re proud to do at ACMA, and from the start of this year’s soirée both are evident in the work we’re doing to prepare.

You can see this inspiration finding its first voice in the artwork for the ACMA Spectacular poster. ACMA visual artists were asked to come up with representations of a parade, and shared a parcel of images with our PTO, a creative collective of parents tasked with marketing the event. Wildly diverse, these artistic interpretations reflected our students’ many points of view.

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A clever parent looked at these offerings and embraced the improvisational mantra: “Yes, and…” The end result was a wild mélange that included bits from many of the students’ work. Like so much of ACMA, this parent’s ingenuity embraced the abundance of art and allowed something marvelous and unexpected to emerge.

Last year’s Spectacular was epic, both in spectacle and duration. This year we’re already working on tightening up the show, even as we keep the connections between artistic pathways and representations from each. We hope, like Cummings’ Picasso, to “hew form truly.”

This year, in our temporary home on 118th, three venues will hold that “sumptuous screech of simplicity” (well, maybe not too simple), as one big experience fills campus for two nights of artistic celebration. Dance, song, art, spoken word, and so much more will be on display, some of it for sale. We’ll stage Picasso’s Parade in the large dance studio, with costumes by our visual artists and music by our orchestra and band, and have two other theatrical spaces where audiences can see the artistic power of our amazing students.

This is a fundraiser, so we hope our patrons and friends will give generously as they enjoy the show. Supporting art and artists is a tradition as old as time, and all of our students benefit when the community around them both believe in them and help provide the resources they need to create.

The 2020 ACMA Spectacular will be filled with some surprises, some standards …and all ACMA!

You can purchase tickets now at our PTO website!

“Making your unknown known…”

The poet finished her second piece and looked up at the audience. “I have one more,” she said quietly into the mic. “Would you like me to read the long version or the short version?” The crowd answered without hesitation, shouting enthusiastically: “LONG!” The poet smiled, just a little, her composure strong. “Really?” she asked. “YES!” answered the audience. And it was awesome.

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The whole event was an experiment to be sure, something ACMA hadn’t tried before, at least not this way. Open Mic Nights of recent years past have been marvelous affairs populated by wildly talented students with polished pieces, well organized and planned weeks in advance. Last Friday’s soiree was the equivalent of a pick up basketball game, or one of the guitar pulls famously hosted by Johnny Cash (where Shel Silverstein might try out a piece to an audience including Kris Kristofferson or Johnny Cash might sing a tune to T Bone Burnett). It was a night of having fun, trying things out, and cheering each other on like crazy.

IMG_1526Students arrived at the venue, a rug a the base of some concrete steps set up with a simple mic, a stool, and an upright piano, and wrote their names on a clipboard. We tried to mix it up so singers were interspersed with stand up comedy, dance, and poetry. 

I told the performers and those in the audience something I believe to be an ACMA truth: “Art matters and sharing art with one another can be a positive and transformative experience. ACMA Open Mic Nights are forgiving and kind affairs, and strive to encourage all performers to continue to create art, share their voices with others, and applaud like nobody’s business.” At ACMA we’re in the business of making artists, sure, and also making good audiences.

IMG_1552We started with the philosophy: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing,” a line from Georgia O’Keeffe.

The night wasn’t only about beautifully crafted pieces, but invited our students to try something that mattered to them. Our school is rich with opportunities for students to audition, rehearse, hone and perfect performances, but Friday invited them to do something different.

There was no backstage on Friday, just people in the audience watching, waiting their turn, and cheering when they saw peers make art. The informal feel of the night complimented the variety of performances: a marvelous song with ukulele, an a capella dance number (really), a very funny standup set on drivers education, and a show stopping pair of songs with piano and voice. Add to that the moving poetry that started this post, an acting scene, and more than a few songs that had the audience humming and wanting to join in on, and we had all the fixings of a great event.

It takes courage to stand up in front of an audience and, to use O’Keefe’s phrase, “make your unknown known,” and on Friday’s Open Mic Night that’s just what these amazing ACMA students did. 

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We’ll do it all again, with Open Mic Nights on November 5th, and December 13th, from 6:30-8:00 pm at ACMA. Come cheer on the kids, allow yourself to laugh, applaud, and be inspired.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla

I could always walk the hall from end to end in five minutes. Starting out in front of the office —after hitting “play” on the morning music— I would go up past the mural of Leonidas, turn the corner and say hello to Mr. Kindblade, who was always standing outside his classroom greeting students to start the day, and walk up the sloped hallway beneath the dog Mona Lisa mural saying good morning to students while managing most days not to spill my coffee. I’d keep going past the Tom Marsh Gallery and on up to the end of the hallway where I’d usually open the doors to the outside and say hi to the students coming out to the music portable. From there I’d retrace my steps, music still filling the halls (as much as our antiquated speakers would allow, too loud in some spots, hardly audible in others) weaving through the thinning crowd as I passed a large mural of Pegasus and our iconic flannel clad Mona Lisa, turned the corner near the student store, and ended up at the doors to the library.

Dog-a LisaSometimes —oftener and oftener to be honest— the music didn’t sound so great. Sure it might be a fantastic tune, a little Billie Holiday or David Bowie, but the PA system had seen its best days end back when Jimmy Carter was president, and all too often it was hard to if the Bangles were really telling us to walk like an Egyptian or Johnny Cash was actually talking about a burning ring of fire.

That said, I loved seeing nearly every student every morning, even if the crowds could be dense, the songs filled with static, and my coffee always just one rolling backpack away from disaster.

Moving to a new building this year, those of us in the front office knew that we wanted to keep the ACMA tradition of morning music in lieu of a first bell alive. Touchstones like that are important as we work to keep our sense of ACMA strong.

We were excited to have a better internal sound system, and we spent the summer working with everyone we thought might help us be sure we could play five minutes of music every morning to start the school day. Herculean efforts by my amazing assistant, whom I’m certain got more than a few sideways looks when she tried to explain to people unfamiliar with ACMA how important it was that the principal be able to play a Starship song at 7:25 AM, paid off, and by opening day we were able to start the morning by explaining to our students in song that “we built this city on rock and roll.”

pegasus.jpgThe song was so clear in the hallways of our temporary campus, and I even heard a student on that first day laughing and telling a friend “I don’t know why, but I love this song.”

Me too.

And as the opening weeks rolled out (to the sounds of Miles Davis, Styx, Ella Fitzgerald, and Buckshot LeFonque among others) I realized that no matter how fast I walked, I couldn’t make it from one end of our borrowed building to the other in five minutes.

What to do?

I tried being equitable, walking the C Hall one day and the B Hall the next. I attempted to circumnavigate from the giant painting of David Bowie outside the front office up the stairs, down the B200s, over the skybridge, down the stairs, and up the C100s. Bob Dylan stopped singing about “Mr. Tambourine Man” before I made it back around.

SpartansIt’s still early in the year and I’ve got good walking shoes. I believe I’ll figure it out.

When we move back to our new campus on Center Street in the fall of 2021 things will be better. There will still be more ground to cover than our original campus, but we’ll be closer again, our doorways not separated by sprawling hallways or empty classrooms, but clustered around an open area ready made for art. 

In the meantime…

I’ll relish walking (on sunshine) the halls every morning, hearing (really clear) music from across the decades, as diverse as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Cher, Chet Baker and Katrina and the Waves, Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits; as diverse as the creative souls who fill our school.

I’ll still say good morning to the kids, still see teachers out in front of their doorways, and still do my best to avoid spilling my coffee. Things might be a little different, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be as good as they always were, and maybe even better. We’re still together (and now without portables). We still dance when we hear Cindy Lauper or Panic! at the Disco come over the PA, now clearer than ever. We’re finding out way together, building this city on…

“ACMA isn’t a building.”

What elevated the ceremony into something to be remembered were the powerful and heartfelt words of the three ACMA students who spoke at the groundbreaking for ACMA’s new campus, the many students and staff in attendance, and the smiles and laughter when the kids (all of them who wanted to) got to pose in front of the heavy machinery holding ceremonial shovels. 

kids 1

In the fall of 2021 Arts & Communication Magnet Academy will open our new building on the original Center Street location where we have been making art and making memories since the school was born. The transformation will be profound, the mid century elementary school building that warmed our hearts with nostalgia, but whose antiquated radiators could no longer reliably warm our classrooms, replaced by a modern building designed to be an art school.

At the groundbreaking on Saturday, Heidi Chuc-Garcia, a senior, spoke first, providing her thoughts in verse:

I’m from a hallway with murals on the walls.
I’m from classroom that reflects teachers personalities.
I’m from having lunch in the hallways, classrooms, portables, and outside.
I’m from a strange place,
A hallway with dim lights and slightly colored water
Where some classrooms were too hot and some were too cold.
I’m a burrito smelling class in Walker’s room after lunch
To the broken windows in Kraxy’s, Alby’s, Gottshall’s, and Lupe’s rooms
And being bushed and bumped by seniors in sixth grade
And falling and tripping over rolling backpacks.
And I’m from music blasting from some of the school speakers
From 7:25 to 7:30
And watching four teachers push their carts up and down hills
And through the hallway.
This is a place where artists were pushed and inspired.
I was always mesmerized by the art around me.
I’m from a place where teachers have a passion for what they teach
And is shows, it really does.
I’m from supporting staff and teachers who believe in me.

The truth is, that while this location represents those memories,
It’s not about the building, and never has been.
You see, I’m still making these memories
With my friends and teachers at the new building
Because ACMA is its people
Its students and teachers and staff.
This place only encapsulates some of those memories
It renders them, and that’s okay
Because we carry them.
It’s been a long journey, and today’s an important day
Because it’s the commencement of a new chapter
And although I won’t be here when it’s finished
I can’t describe how excited I am for the returning students.

So I guess it shouldn’t be ‘I’m from this place…”
Or ‘I’m from those memories and those experiences…’
It should me more:
‘I am ACMA!’
‘You are ACMA!’
‘We are ACMA!’

So we better take care of ACMA
At our current building and its future home,
Filling it with love, admiration, and the respect it deserves.”

Better perspective, and from a student who will herself never take a class in the new building, cannot be imagined.

Lauren Camou spoke next. The only student of the three who will graduate from the new campus, she looked forward to the changes to come. She said:

I have been here since sixth grade and will be the second class to graduate in the new building. ACMA has been a very welcoming and safe environment for me and I couldn’t be happier to be here for the seven years I get. I love all of the staff and all the students I see everyday. 

Where we are standing now, was our school. This building that is no longer here was a big part of us. The one hallway that kept us all so close, united us. The Tom Marsh, the Batcave, the different class murals, and even the hidden parts of the building that most students never see kept our history in the walls of this building quite literally. 

And although we were able to take the class murals with us, the building is gone. But we’re still the same. We still help one another and spread kindness everywhere we can, just in a bigger and temporary building. In two years, we’ll be here again, in our new space. 

We’ll still be ACMA, of course, and we’ll still support each other, because that’s just who we are, and that won’t change.”

Such wisdom in youth is the reason I’m so optimistic about the future of our school and our world.

Annika McNair finished the set, beginning her speech with a well chosen quotation from Tolkien.

“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.” That’s a quote about Bilbo from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I share this quote because it largely describes ACMA students on their approach to the temporary school.

We’re still a little heartbroken from leaving the old one. We’ll never be able to see the same halls, or the trees outside the windows of class, but I think in the last week or two we’ve had a little bit of a redeeming realization. ACMA isn’t a building; it’s a home we carry with us, and maybe it’s the people we meet or the passion of arts that we share, but we’ve created a sense of family that extends beyond the sentimentality of a building.

Even so, when we gathered to watch the live feed of the demolition it wasn’t hard to miss the loss we all felt. We were in a place that allowed us to love and so we learned to love the place. Today we are gathered to celebrate what is going to be the new ACMA building. When it is finished and we move again, trotting along like little Bilbo, I’ve no doubt the new building will provide the same space to keep our home.”

The rest of us adults who spoke did our best to commemorate this momentous occasion. We’ve all been on the planet long enough to know that days like this are rarer than we’d like, and that having something so grand to look forward to is a treasure beyond measure. Some of us also know how important this is for ACMA; a groundbreaking on a building like this could scarcely be imagined in the early years of Arts & Communication, and I’ll suggest that a few of the tears in the audience were in honor of the journey our little art school has taken in the past (almost) thirty years.

But while we adults were earnest and articulate, I know that what people will remember from the day is the words of the kids. As they should.

Because, as I mentioned in my brief remarks, we are not building this school for any of the adults at the podium. ACMA is for the kids, the dreamers, the artists, the future.

everyone

If you missed Saturday’s soiree, you can find a video of it here!

Adaptation

“The key word is adaptation”
-Peter Han, Arts & Communication alum and professional artist

We knew that the new year would bring changes, big ones from a physical environment point of view. ACMA was moving from the comfortable, well worn campus we have called home since 1991 to a new building, the epically proportioned Timberland Middle School. We did our best to prepare for the move, our theater and dance departments packing the costumes and sets they imagined they’d need in the next year or two before we return to our familiar performing arts center in the fall of 2021, everyone else filling box after box and preparing to walk away from a campus broken in like a familiar baseball glove or favorite pair of shoes.

We were going somewhere squeaky new.

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Summer arrived and with it the move itself. The gym at Timberland filled with boxes, piles of them, and the few of us who work year round began rattling around the new building. Planning for ACMA Day, teachers returning, and the opening of school felt different in the new place, and yet…

Change can be good.

I’ve said that we could be ACMA in a circus tent often enough to get kidded for the phrase, but it’s true, and I realized that our temporary relocation is really an opportunity.

Peter HanAt the end of last year Arts & Communication grad Peter Han, class of ‘99, came to speak to our art students. He talked a lot about his time at Arts & Communication and then about what it took to be a professional artist. Hard work, passion, and drawing-drawing-drawing were a part of it, he explained to the students, as was a willingness to always continue to learn and grow. “The key word,” he told them, in being an artist “is adaptation.”

And that’s exactly what we’re getting ready to do.

Dance is taking over a large space currently called (unimaginatively) the “auxiliary gym.” By the time they’re done installing a new dance floor (sprung for safety and as large as the main stage in our PAC), curtains, and some room for seating it will have been adapted into something marvelous.

Theater, who are taking over a grand Black Box Theatre, are doing some adaptation of their own, building their 2019-2020 season to take advantage of the space. When they stage Cabaret, a show designed to blur the line between audience and stage, they’ll show a creativity that incorporates their new home and artistic process. Cabaret is a show that couldn’t have been put on in either our Blue Box or main stage in the same way, and taking advantage of the new space is both smart and artistically daring.

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 9.16.29 PMVisual artists, photographers, sculptors, and writers all have an opportunity to begin anew with a blank page, a gessoed canvas, an untouched block of clay. They will create in an atmosphere that is new to them, sailors on a ship leaving port for unmapped seas. What they will discover in the world around them, and in themselves, is an adventure I’m looking forward to being a witness to.

And at the same time, we’re still the same. ACMA is still a collection of wildly creative and caring people. We’re still divergent thinkers, innovative problem solvers, and kind souls no matter whether we’re surrounded by seventy year old wainscoting or yellow trim.

This move provides us all with an opportunity to create with new resources, new surroundings, and a slightly different point of view.

I’m optimistic that the art that we create this year, from Cabaret to The Ballpoint, from the Spectacular to Art is My Voice, will be a little different and still profoundly identifiable as “so very ACMA.” We’re artists after all, always changing, growing, and adapting.

Sorcery

The going from a world we know
To one a wonder still
Is like the child’s adversity
Whose vista is a hill,
Behind the hill is sorcery
And everything unknown,
But will the secret compensate
For climbing it alone?
                     —Emily Dickinson

Any artist knows that true magic is just another name for art. Art compels us to think differently, feel deeply, and see beyond the world we already know.

Artists are the sorcerers of our age, and as our ACMA community leaves the campus we’ve known as home for nearly three decades, it will be our artists who will reassure us that as we climb the hill …to our temporary campus on 118th Avenue. All will be well. Much will be magic.

This, I think, will be true in part because, unlike in Dickinson’s poem, we are not climbing the hill alone.

In our school we have community. Our school is filled with kindred spirits, challenging foils, and fellow travelers. Yes, we are moving away from the comfortable environs of our original campus, but we’ll be back, and when we are (in the fall of 2021) what experiences we will bring with us from our wondrous sojourn up that hill beyond our former vista.

I know, I know, it’s just a big empty building, gargantuan space that will open as a middle school proper in the fall of 2021. One look at the yellow trim and aqua lockers and you’ll accuse me of purple prose. I’ll own that.

Because I think it’s the artistic spirit that clings to the students and staff of our quirky art school that will transform our temporary home into something more.

There is a sorcery to what we do akin to Prospero on Shakespeare’s island. There is a fairy dust that will make the wide hallways sing, turn the auxiliary gym into a dance studio, and make the canary yellow trim glow like a sunrise.

Well, maybe high noon. It is really yellow.

And as much as I will hold a place in my heart for our original CE Mason Elementary building, I know that it isn’t our campus that makes us who we are.

It is us. Together.

On the final day of our last school year a student handed me a drawing.

We are ACMA

We are ACMA.

That’s the truth, and it’s a reassuring one.

Climbing the hill of uncertainty together, that truth in our collective heart, we are invited to think about our journey in a way we might not have before. Yes, we feel the elixir of emotions that come with change, and… this new world is a place ready for art. And us, the sorcerers.

Tempest Tossed

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.” –The Tempest

We hope to be good neighbors. Honest. We see that the homes around our new campus are close. Really close. Like look out your window and nod at the white cat perched in the sill of the townhouse across the way close. 

We know that this neighborhood has never seen the likes of us; a well ordered cavalcade of elementary school students have tromped through the halls of the campus that we’ll call home for the next two years, a very different crowd than our spirited, quirky, iconoclastic teenaged ACMAniacs. And we hope…

We hope that the neighbors will see in us a celebration of creativity. We hope that they will see in us hope, and inspiration, and fun. We hope that the first time a mom or dad pushing a stroller past our home on 118th Avenue sees us they will notice our multicolored hair, unicorn onesie, furry tail, rainbow backpack, fabulous makeup, Cher concert shirt, hooves… and walk down the hill humming the refrain from Prince’s Paisley Park.

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With just a couple of weeks to go before students fill campus with an energy that is difficult to capture in words, I want to whisper those lines from Caliban to our neighbors: “Be not afeard.”

Because while our metaphoric isle is full of noises, ACMA strives to “give delight and hurt not.” Our twanging instruments and sometime voices, our dance and art and film, our poets and potters, actors and animators all strive to bring dreams to life, to share our creative souls with those around us.

Those neighbors that are so close included.

And as we begin our year it is incumbent upon us to reach out to the homes around us and introduce ourselves. We are the colorful people whose hair on one side is swept back, a wild conglomeration of poetic spirits who are finding ourselves and our place in the world, and who for two years will be plop in the middle of a lovely neighborhood of orderly houses, wide sidewalks, and people walking dogs.

We will sometimes make more noise than an elementary school. We will host big performances that fill our parking lot with the cars of audience members. We will have student drivers.

And…

We welcome you to come see a concert, watch a play, marvel at a dance performance. We’d love to have you come to Art is My Voice or February’s ACMA Spectacular. If you do, we can promise to give you the best art we’re capable of, something that might just inspire you to believe that our world does contain magic, and the future of our planet is in good hands with the youth of today.

Then, two years from now, we’ll be gone like a dream.