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.”

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A Little Like Hogwarts

Every winter we are given a chance to articulate ourselves. As an options school, ACMA is a place without a single geographic attendance area. Other “neighborhood schools” have set boundaries and draw from homes nearby; our little art school sees students from all corners of our district gather at our campus to create art and create community. As a part of the process of telling potential students and families about Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, we host “School Information Nights” in December, and it’s here that we get to share a window into our ACMA world.

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With a student body made up of wildly creative sixth through twelfth graders, who come from all over the area, and who believe in the magically transformative power of art, I like to believe that we’re a little like Hogwarts.

It’s a line I like to use in our Info Nights, when I’m trying to help parents and prospective students understand that we’re more than just a middle and high school pushed together; we’re a seven year academic and artistic adventure, I tell them, and you wouldn’t stop reading Harry Potter after The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Folks usually indulge me with a chuckle.

Those Information Nights begin with student musicians on stage, see me talk with the crowd for a spell, share some pictures of what we do, and end with more kids on stage to answer questions as only students can. We aim for a fun night, filled with music, images, and honesty, and hope to leave our audience satisfied and applauding.

At ACMA we do like applause.

But the night is more than just a chance for entertainment. At its best, Info Night is an opportunity for us to reflect on who we are and who we aspire to be, and think about what steps we are taking to be the community we say we are. It’s a chance for me as the principal, as well as the many students who join me to answer questions from the audience, to put into words the reality we live every day.

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At a school as special as ours, and overwhelmingly those of us who call ACMA home do see it as very, very special, it could be easy to slip into complacency, to take ACMA for granted. Preparing for Info Night is a great opportunity to pause long enough to recognize that what we have, and what we continue to create, is unique.

Along the way, I do my best to help my audience see past the beauty and power of our performances and the art they may have seen displayed. I do my best to celebrate the rehearsals and practices, the editing and revisions, the rough drafts and the hard work that goes into making a final product. That process of making art is as much a part of who we are as any polished work.

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Knowing that not everyone can come to one of our Info Nights (we live in a busy world, I get it), I try each year to bottle some of the magic in a video we can share. Even knowing it’s not up to the task of telling everything about our school, and recognizing that it can’t include the amazing honesty and openness of the students who sit on the lip of the stage and answer audience questions, it’s another way to help focus our thoughts about our school.

That focus, and the many purposeful decisions that focus prompts us to make as we create our community, help to keep our school the special place it is. Certainly we continue to evolve, adding courses like animation and expanding the scope of what we do as we embrace the technological side of the arts, but at our creative heart we are more similar to the original vision of the school than we are different.

We articulate that in a statement I project at Info Night:

Arts & Communication Magnet Academy’s innovative educational community engages all students and staff in achieving academic and artistic excellence. We ignite the human need to create and question by honoring both the unique characteristics and the interdependence of all disciplines of study, while weaving a rich collaborative tapestry of experience.”

As I tell the crowd: we recognize that a phrase like “weaving a rich collaborative tapestry of experience” might sound corny to some, but we believe it. As a school we’re willing to put aside a few folks thinking we’re quirky (we are) or a little cornball (we are) or too artsy by half (we think we’re just artsy enough, and that our sequins look fabulous). We also know that by working together, supporting one another, and honoring the process and power of art, we can create an atmosphere that is magical.

Pausing every fall to prepare for our winter sharing helps us recognize and embrace that vision for ACMA. Thinking about who we are, as well as the actions we take every day to support that vision, is a healthy exercise for our school, and any school, and one we embrace.

It’s also why by December I should be able to tell you the hundred ways we’re like Hogwarts.

Feathers/Wings

IMG_8703We started them on the first day of school, the day when all students new to ACMA came to campus a day before returning students. After a welcome in the auditorium students fanned out across campus in groups, visiting the library, participating in some theatre games, and making art. That art was simple in design, but big in idea. Feathers.

Each student got to choose a bright cardstock strip to draw or write on any way they thought represented them. Faces, quotations, animals, the choices were as different as each individual student. Next, they cut these into the shapes of a feathers, and by the end of the day hundreds were piled on the art studio table.

IMG_8704Over the next couple of weeks we added to the pile of feathers. Staff took turns making their own during our preservice week, parents got to make feathers at my first principal’s coffee, and our intrepid assistant principal set up a table for returning students to make their own at lunch. The feathers filled a wicker basket to overflowing, and then…

On the wall outside my office at the front of the school those feathers became wings. On a rich blue background two swooping collections of feathers reached toward the butchers paper clouds. On those clouds, drifting about the rainbow wings, were written: “Attitude determines altitude” and “Commit to soar, ACMA.”

IMG_8701We figured it would be a nice photo opportunity for any souls willing to stand in front and make the wings their own. It was also a metaphor that captures at least a bit of who we are as a school.

Individually we are creative, divergent, and wildly individualistic. Some of us draw, some of us write, some of us express ourselves in music and movement. Those feathers showed all the colors of our rainbow, gave each person their own personal space to create, and the freedom to be themselves. And…

Together those individual feathers coalesced and created something magical and greater than any one individual. Alone we are feathers; together we are wings.

So too at our little art school. The painter, the poet, the percussionist; the dancer, the director, the dreamer; each left to our own devices can create something marvelous and individual, but how much more when the sculptor and the screenwriter, the filmmaker and the photographer, the actor and the artist support each other?

Art unifies us. Art lifts us up. Art, and each other, helps us soar.

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Mascotte

“The word ‘mascot’ comes from the French term ‘mascotte’ meaning lucky charm. The word was first recorded in 1867 and popularized by the opera ‘La Mascotte’, performed in December 1880. It then entered the English language in 1881.” -from The History of Mascots, International University Sports Federation

At ACMA we do not have a mascot. Established in 1992, Arts & Communication Magnet Academy has made it more than a quarter century without a “lucky charm” that we can put on coffee mugs, sweatshirts, and baseball caps. Still, from time to time the question rears its plush costumed head: should we?

A few paragraphs from now I’ll end this post with the line: ACMA transcends any single image, any simple definition, and any (even the most creative) mascot. But before that, just for a smile, I offer the top ten ideas I’ve heard over the past year…

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 12.47.30 PMACMA Tigers
A call back to history, when C.E. Mason Elementary opened in 1949 with the very midcentury mascot, the Tigers! (It just feels like a mascot like that needs an exclamation point after it.) Tigers would be a great mascot for ACMA with so many possibilities for artists to have fun with the traditional image and a nod to the plush ears and tails so many of our students wear right now. Tiger striped sweatshirts? Sure, our students could make that work. But…

We’re not really all that traditional, even with a pinch of irony, and if we were looking for an animal to represent that playful and unexpected nature that help to define us, we’d probably go with someone we know and love: Rojo!

RojoACMA Llamas
One of last year’s highlights was the visit from ACMA spirit animal Rojo the llama. Rojo came to campus, kissed some students, enjoyed the love we shared (and reflected it back in warm waves).

As she waited her turn to pet Rojo in the courtyard last year a student asked me why the llama was on campus. “It’s ACMA,” I told her. “Magical things happen here.” She smiled and nodded. That sounded right. So what better animal to go on the ACMA swag than a llama? Well…

If frequency was taken into consideration, the animal most associated with our artsy campus would have to be a unicorn.

ACMA Unicorns
From backpacks to plush horns, the unicorn is the animal embodiment of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Magic, fanciful, beautiful, and bringing joy, unicorns are to ACMA what ponies are to Mongolia. During a “shadow day” last fall, when fifth graders considering applying to ACMA visit campus for a day, one of our current students who was acting as a guide arrived to school in a unicorn onesie. “I just wanted the kids to know what we’re all about,” she explained. “Here you can be yourself.”

…or a unicorn. But…

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 11.34.21 AMNot every student wants to be a unicorn. Knowing you can wear a cape, or a beret, or a pair of cat ears is different than choosing to wear a cape, or a beret, or a pair of cat ears. That spirit of possibility and creativity unites us, but looks different in each of our students. It’s why maybe an animal, real or imagined, isn’t the perfect mascot. Maybe we should think about something more universal to who we are, like…

ACMA Artists
We print it on the pencils we give out at the start of the year: ACMA Artists. It’s simply who we are. Writers, dancers, sculptors, filmmakers, actors, painters, animators, singers, photographers, stage techs, musicians… we are ACMA.

So maybe that’s just a description, not a mascot. A mascot ought to be something with some symbolism, some playfulness, some history. What if we looked back at the opening of the school and tried something clever? What if we considered…

ACMA Masonites
The what? Well… when Arts & Communication High School opened in 1992 they did so in a building with the name C.E. Mason still emblazoned above the front door. Early attempts at naming the school included the original name, and looking back on photos from ACMA’s past you can see that during the first Clinton administration they were still calling themselves “Masonites.” How marvelous then to keep this throwback handle even as ACMA moves forward? A conversation piece! A curiosity! A silly idea? Perhaps.

No, our students identify less with C.E. Mason than they do more artistic spirits. Maybe, to take the senior painting from a year ago as inspiration, we could be…

bowieACMA David Bowies
Yes, some will argue, there is only one David Bowie, but is there really? Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, that fellow in the suit singing about getting to the church on time? Bowie was not only a wild creative force, but his shapeshifting nature goes a long way to capture who we are as a collective artistic community at ACMA. Visual, musical, always in motion, Bowie embodies art in a way few did. Filmmakers and actors? Don’t forget Labyrinth! Plus, he’s the coolest cat around.

But, you’ll say, he’s a fellow and you’re 75% female at ACMA. Okay, then closer to home…

ACMA Mona Lisas
She is everywhere on campus. Painted on walls: a canine Mona Lisa, an abstract Mona Lisa, and a Mona Lisa in flannel.

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She finds her way into every hallway, her enigmatic smile as ACMA as ACMA can be. More than almost any image, Mona Lisa, or the unexpected riffs on DaVinci’s painting, capture the intersection of student creativity and classical art. Put Mona Lisa on a t-shirt and folks won’t be surprised that you’re talking about ACMA. And…

ACMA …the ACMA
Last year we asked students what they thought. We invited them to come up with an answer to the question: “What is the ACMA?” They drew and wrote out ideas, and the results were as varied as our students. One student suggested a penguin, another a ghost. Another noticed that “ACMA” as it’s so often pronounced sounds very much like “Akuma,” the word for a Japanese fire demon. All of those answers are as right as tigers, or Masonites, or David Bowies.

IMG_6246I love that at ACMA we aren’t easy to pin down. I dig that to define us defies expectations and avoids easy labeling. That we don’t have a mascot feels as right. We are possibility. We inhabit a world of change, transfiguration, and magic. Heck, we create it.

So as fun as it would be to have an ACMA sweatshirt with a picture of Mona Lisa or the Spiders from Mars on it, I like that the next week I could wear a unicorn, and the week after that an ACMA Llama. It’s the uninhibited possibility that really captures who we are.

Truth be told, ACMA transcends any single image, any simple definition, and any (even the most creative) mascot.

Bird is the Word: Three Stories

I’m sometimes asked what it’s like to be the principal of an art school. With just over 700 students grades six through twelve, an unusual age spread, focused on visual and performing arts, my school is proudly quirky, unapologetically iconoclastic, and as wildly creative as it is kind. Our staff shirts this year are tie dye. But that doesn’t quite catch all of who we are.

IMG_6890So I offer three snapshots of our school spirit, tiles in the mosaic of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Hardly comprehensive, these examples from a busy August simply show a sample of who we are, or aspire to be.

ACMA has long had a tradition of silly yearbooks photos. It could be argued that these have always been a part of our school; look back at the first yearbook and you’ll see Faye Dunaway, Groucho Marx, and Obi Wan Kenobi alongside the students. By 1994-1995 students had begun to add props to their yearbook photos, hats, guitars, and stuffed animals. Fast forward to the early 2000s and the staff are in on the goofiness.

Last year saw a puppy make his way into a yearbook photo. Some students came with masks, hats, and one in a banana suit. For kids new to ACMA silly yearbook photos, the final station of our registration day, are an introduction into the playful spirit of our school. They get their official ID picture, formal, with a smile, and then are invited to have fun. Work, then play. For returning students this is an opportunity to plan ahead and express themselves in a way that is “so very ACMA.”

So this year, as I was walking through the blue box theater where they were taking photos, I heard a snippet of dialogue that I’m not sure would ever be uttered anywhere other than our little school. Bending over the display screen, the photographer and a student were reviewing a proof and the photographer said: “You look fabulous in this first photo, but the bird is looking away.”

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So very ACMA.

The next week our teachers returned to campus, and in the midst of staff meetings and preparing for back to school night, new student day, and the first day of school, a group of about a dozen of my performing arts teachers gathered in the library to talk about a big idea. Our PTO had suggested that in lieu of an auction, this year we might entertain the notion of a celebration of the arts, a Cabaret Night that would see performances from across the creative continuum, an evening where parents, patrons, and families could come and enjoy what ACMA is all about. It was a kernel of possibility that these teachers decided to embrace.

Talk ranged from how we could select the best of the best performances for the night, integrate new work, and invite talented student performers to show off the art that matters so much to them. It was what I expected the conversation might look like, talented artists chatting about showcasing student work. And then…

Then something shifted. One teacher brought up and idea about how we might fill the foyer with visual art, integrating photography, animation, and spoken word into the event. Another suggested a plan for providing multiple performance venues. A third asked about using the main building for some part of the night, making part of Cabaret Night a farewell to the CE Mason building that has served as home to students for almost 70 years. Ideas exploded all around the table. Dinner? Dessert? MCs? What about alumni?

Conversations blossomed about former students and what they were doing in the world of art and performance. Would any be interested in performing with our students? The possibilities…

One night turned into two. How could we invite more families to come to experience our art? What kind of projects could we collaborate on between departments: film, dance, music… if we projected photography and had our jazz band… how about some poetry paired with… would the choir want to… could we get sculpture students and the orchestra to…

I left dizzy with the possibilities. I’d seen each of these teachers individually preparing and producing opportunities for students to shine, and I’d seen a few collaborate with other departments, but in a passionate hour on the week before school began I witnessed the sheer power of art and imagination, in service to students, on a level that is hard to capture in words.

IMG_7358I know that this spring the fruits of that conversation and the hard work that will follow this genesis of ideas will be marvelous (mark your calendars for May 17th and 18th), and as inspiring was to be a fly on the wall while these amazing artists and educators talked about taking chances, supporting students, and embracing the challenge of creativity on an epic scale.

On a more modest, but no less inspiring scale, a student came up to me at Back to School Night almost in tears. She’d lost $40 in the course of picking up her schedule (and ice cream cone from our PTO for our annual ice cream social) and asked if anyone had turned it in. They hadn’t, and it broke my heart to tell her so. She left, retracing her steps back to Fred Meyer where she’d been before walking to campus.

My mingling during the ice cream social brought me to the family of an incoming sixth grader, who shook my hand, remembering my name from our registration day, and let me know that he and his mom had found $40 that he wanted to hand in to lost and found. “They might really need it,” he said. I knew he was right.

So I asked the student if he wanted to be the one to give the money back to the student who’d lost it, and he smilingly agreed. We walked into the building in search of the upperclassmen who had lost the $40. We found her friend, who called her at the store. Then the friend turned to the 6th grader and handed him the phone. He introduced himself, listened, and smiled. Handing the phone back, he looked at me and said: “She wants to give me a hug!”

The creativity of birds, the passion of artists, and the kindness of family, these are who we are at Arts & Communication Magnet Academy …wrapped in a tie dye t-shirt.

Infectious Exuberance

This morning a group of students filled my office with their positive energy and vision for the year ahead. My first summer meeting with the elected officers is always a treat and this year it provided a jolt of excitement ahead of the run up to the start of school.

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For a couple of weeks I’ve been at my desk planning the opening days when teachers return, fine tuning the master calendar, and thinking about the first week with students. All of those plans, which look good on my computer screen, but feel a world away from the action that will arrive with students, paused as I listened to these fantastic student leaders talk me through the series of events, the schemes to support school spirit, and the vision for a fantastic ACMA that they’ve been working on all summer.

Like me, they’ve been planning, and as they gave voice to those plans it was inspiring to hear the passion behind their ideas and the dedication to bringing those ideas into action.

2018-2019 will see events focused on helping students tell their stories, make connections to the school and each other, and show pride in who they are and this special school we call home.

I’ll let the students introduce their plans themselves, but as I wrote notes on my calendar during our meeting I kept thinking: these students have a plan and the power to make our school a better place every month!

I was particularly happy to hear the students talking about opportunities for our sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students to share artwork, participate in events on campus, and contribute to the positive atmosphere of our school. I loved the focus on community, the celebration of all art forms, and the importance of play.

The students also talked about smart choices to best get information to students and share a window into our world with the broader community. Heck, this meeting made me consider getting on Instagram to be sure not to miss out on some of the fun.

With less than a month before teachers return to campus, spending the morning with students energized me more than anything else I’m likely to do this summer. Those same students will be the first voices my teachers hear when they come back this fall; they’ve agreed to lead our staff through a couple of activities designed to reinforce the importance of human connections between students and staff. I have no doubt that the staff will find them as inspiring as I did today.

As July turns into August it’s time to shift gears from the more relaxed pace of summer to the growing excitement of the start of school. There is no better time on campus than those sunny days of early fall, and I’m over the moon excited to be sharing this journey with such amazing students!

Strange

There is a park that is known
For the face it attracts
Colorful people whose hair
On one side is swept back
The smile on their faces
It speaks of profound inner peace
Ask where they’re going
They’ll tell you nowhere
They’ve taken a lifetime lease
On Paisley Park

-Prince, Paisley Park

While we don’t have a school fight song at ACMA, I like to think that if we did it would be Prince’s “Paisley Park.” Artistic, independent, and confessedly quirky, students and staff at our little art school recognize the importance of seeing the world through the kaleidoscopic eyes of an artist. We paint, sculpt, act, and dance. We make music and make films. We write poetry and write scripts. We write the possibilities of our own futures.

To some, this looks strange.

But while the workaday world might look twice at what some of us wear, the color of our hair, or the glitter on our faces, ACMA’s colorful people are about more than just appearances. Our artistic souls run deep, and our capacity for seeing life in a way that might make a difference is profound.

If we were a superhero, we’d be Dr. Strange.

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…because ACMA is a place for magic. It is a world of wonder and wild creativity. Faced with challenges, artistic, academic, or social, our students respond cleverly, compassionately, and creatively. Where there isn’t yet an answer, our students are ready to go about making their own.

A student once told me: “Nobody’s weird here at ACMA, because everyone’s weird here at ACMA.” She meant this in a good way.

Diverse interests, diverse backgrounds, diverse attitudes all come together at our school under the transformative and unifying power of art. Painters, poets, photographers; dancing, drawing, and daring to do great things, it’s not strange to see students from one artistic pathway supporting peers from another, and even trying their hand in different medium as well. Our actors write, our musicians draw, every one of our sixth graders has a chance to dance.

Strange? Maybe. Or maybe strange is just a point of view.

ACMA contains a world not everyone sees, not technical, not linear, not gritty or cosmic, but something else, something unique.

It’s here that…

…plush ears, horns, and tails are a regular part of what students wear every day

…Mona Lisa is painted on our hallway walls, as a dog, a grunge rocker, and a surprising collage you have to look at twice to see her

…we have Back to School Night before the first day of classes

…students and staff pose for silly photos in the yearbook

…Rojo the therapy llama is a part of our school family

…our athletic complex is a single basketball hoop at a ¾ angle in the courtyard

…we don’t have a school mascot

…our hallways are a living gallery, filled with contemporary student art, not hidden behind glass

…LGBTQ is celebrated, not just accepted

…our summer theater program mounts a full scale musical in just a month

…our students doodle

…it’s not unusual to see a student on stilts, or a student in a top hat, or a staff member in a kilt

…tie-dye is the unofficial school color

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 11.40.36 AM…we have students who take math up through AP Calculus

…Halloween is a national holiday

…a giant painting of David Bowie hangs outside the main office

…staff compete in a giant Rock-Paper-Scissors competition

…we laugh a lot, we cry easily, and we surprise some who don’t know us with our strength

…we have a “Bat Cave”

…we love applause, we embrace creativity, and we care for each other

ACMA is a special place, and for those of us who get to spend time here every day, a transformational one. It’s here that we learn, create, a embrace being a little different.

To quote an unconventional superhero: “If you ask me, it’d be an awfully boring life if nothing was ever weird. It’s the weird ones who change the world.”