The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boasts one of the most robust arts department seen outside of a college or graduate arts program. Paul Brissette, chairman of the art, design and technology department, is proud that, at this school, “arts are on an equal par to sports.”
Wednesday night at the high school’s annual Evening of the Arts, it showed. A year’s worth of talented work by students in grades nine through 12 was on display, and it was easy to see why art here ranks as cool, fun and popular. In an impressive, schoolwide, multimedia showcase, performance art shared the stage with graphic arts. Highlights included a riotous skit lampooning Harry Potter, a heartbreaking rendition of Hallelujah by Ashley Cafarelli and Charlotte Benjamin, and a throaty, knockout presentation of Hometown Glory, which brought the house down.
At the high school students can choose from a wide spectrum of art course options, including drawing, painting, music, ceramics, fashion design, digital 3D design, game design and Web multimedia design.
Seniors are each given a panel on the wall in the entrance to the Performing Arts Center. Deeper into the halls, work by underclassmen is divided by course. Decking these hallways are examples of stunning photography, paintings and sculptures, including a samurai made of plain cardboard. Then there were some high-tech creations, such as a student-made video game reminiscent of that old-school classic, Space Invaders.
In the back rooms, students of retiring teacher Paul Campbell make ceramics. In the game design/graphic art rooms, be careful or you might trip over a deluge of top-of-the-line Apple computers. Here students practice digital drafting through a program called Google Sketch Up. The result is very modern, clean imagery that is reminiscent of early modern art and architecture.
While some students yearn to use the latest and greatest in technology, others prefer to go back to basics. “My students are interested in darkroom, traditional photography over digital,” Mr. Brissette said. “It reminds me of when word processors first came out and there was an explosion of interest in letterpresses.” Though he previously modified the room for video purposes, he is in the process of recreating a darkroom for traditional photography.
Mr. Brissette said he likes to see his students tackle novel and conceptual assignments. “I’m interested in stretching the way text and imagery go together,” he said. He likes to juxtapose things that don’t conventionally belong together, such as a robot with an apple for a head. His favorite piece, however, is The Gum Man. Whenever a student slaps gum on the bottom of a desk, he rips off the sticky wad and puts it on a sculpture made of gum that resembles a man.
Showing a visitor around the classrooms, the veteran art teacher remarked that something must be done about the lighting. (School hallways are dimly lit by weak fluorescent lights.) Mr. Brissette is vigilant about making sure his kids have the best tools they need to make lasting art, and is on constant watch to make sure his program stays current and relevant.
“No make-outs allowed at school,” he said with a smile after kissing his wife hello.
High school principal Steve Nixon was also in evidence on Wednesday night. “The wealth of talent is huge for such a small community,” Mr. Nixon said. Mr. Brissette added that the supportive, arts-friendly Island community helps make all the art possible.
What’s coming up next? “We’ll help kids design apps next year [applications for smart phones]. That’s a potential gold mine,” Mr. Brissette said.
Who knows, maybe the next Angry Birds will be designed by one of Mr. Brissette’s students. With a wealth of students headed to art schools after graduation in places such as Savannah, Boston and New York, he said he will be curious to track how they try to top their artistic accomplishments here on the Vineyard.