Student athletes have their moments to shine during sporting events and pep rallies, while musicians get the spotlight during numerous concerts held throughout the year. But for talented student artists, getting recognition for their work can be harder to come by.
However, the South Brunswick School District is one of the few who provides a chance for students and their art teachers to shine during the annual Student Art Gallery. The event, held on Wednesday, showcases the work of the best and brightest art students from each school in the district.
"One of our district staff members said (the gallery) is our homecoming, this is our season finale," said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Joanne Kerekes. "Just as athletes get to have their moments in sports, this event is the moment for students and art teachers. This is the culminating art event."
Inside the annex gym at , artwork lined each wall from the floor to high above. In the middle of the room were dozens of displays with hundreds of pieces from students in kindergarten all the way to the high school, using various mediums. The amount of work that goes into putting the gallery together is extensive, as Kerekes praised the art teachers, custodial staff, physical education teachers, secretaries and other district staff for their efforts to set the gallery up.
For the art teachers, just preparing each piece to be displayed in the gallery, while also working on the setup at SBHS, involved some exhaustive days.
"We were here for about 13 to 14 hours (Tuesday) just setting this up," said Greenbrook and Dayton art teacher Jennifer Kipnis. "For the two weeks prior to the show we're at the school until 7 p.m. each night making sure everything is ready. But to see it all come together is exhilarating, exciting and rewarding."
Beyond the work setting up the gallery and then taking it back down, the art teachers prepare for the event all year performing what they said is the most difficult part, choosing which works of art from their students to include.
"We work so hard to get these kids to do their best work throughout the year," Kipnis said. "It's just so hard to choose."
Once the gut-wrenching selection process is over, the teachers get to look on with pride as their students get the recognition from their families and community members.
"It doesn't matter what their age is or what their grade level is, the work here is just amazing," said Indian Fields and Dayton art teacher Katina Ewaskiewicz. "This is a chance for us to show what our students can do and the community comes together to support it."
At the district administrative level, Kerekes said she enjoys the gallery because it embodies what the South Brunswick visual arts program is all about from a curriculum standpoint. While the gallery shines the spotlight on the students, Kerekes said the talent on display is a testament to the work done each and every day by district art teachers.
"Similar to our music kids who have lots of talent, it takes a teacher to bring that out in students," she said. "This is about what they do everyday with the kids to spur their imagination and engage them. These are teachers who know how to unlock what's inside these students."
On Wednesday morning, a special gallery showing for senior citizens was held, which also included a performance from talented students in the district's music program to help join the different art forms together.
"I like this because it's an all arts event that shows a mutual appreciation for both," said Indian Fields music teacher Daniel Martinho. "For us music teachers, we get to have our concerts. For the art teachers, they get their concert with this event. That's what makes this great, because it's unique. Other districts don't do this."
The work on display using the various mediums left even experienced artists in awe.
"This is just amazing every year and reflects the quality of the teaching here," said Sandy Behrend of the South Brunswick Arts Commission. "Any child that walks through here and sees their painting is going to think more of themselves. It's a credit to the wonderful teachers who pull this work out of the kids and give them proper motivation.
The gallery also showcased the “Alice Collection,” with artwork based on the themes and characters of The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The book was featured as part of the . Also on display was work that exhibited the theme of tolerance and acceptance to represent the district's anti-bullying program.
As part of the gallery each year, the art teachers select a piece of art from each K-5 school, two from each middle school, and a few pieces from SBHS for inclusion in the district’s 2012-2013 calendar. Other selected works are also brought to the South Brunswick Senior Center for display, and several pieces are selected to be exhibited on the district web site and as part of anti-bullying programs.
During the event Wednesday morning, two elementary school students were walking from painting to painting when one of the kids asked his friend to go take a look at the picture he painted.
"We already looked at your painting, let's go look at mine," the other said.
This kind of pride that’s instilled in young artists by having their work showcased is why Kerekes referred to it as a labor of love for all involved.
"When you see an entire family clustered around a kid's work, that has huge meaning for them," she said. "When I was their age and my work got recognized, I still remember it today. I think that holds true for these kids. This is something they will remember forever."