Gallery exhibition celebrates students’ art and cultural diversity

On this frigid February Friday evening, a crowd of about 50 Long Island high school students, teachers, parents and school representatives flocked to an intimate Huntington gallery space to celebrate the works of rising high school artists. Held in the town’s Main Street Petite Gallery, the opening night of the Huntington Arts Council’s 11th-annual High Arts Showcase featured the artwork of 30 high school students from five Long Island school districts.

Gallery-goers said they were impressed by the students’ talents in photography, drawing, painting, sculpture and graphic design. But, also palpable in students’ works, they said, was a heightened awareness of global cultural diversity–to a degree that some would argue is atypical of most high school juniors and seniors today.

Tonight’s event is all about the incorporation of different cultures and cultural histories into art education,” said James W. Polansky, superintendent of Huntington Union Free School District. “It’s about how cultural diversity in education helps students grow as artists, as people.”

For many rising high school artists, the High Arts Showcase is their first real professional arts experience. Five students won awards for artistic excellency, and all students have the opportunity to sell their art on display in the exhibition. Huntington Arts Council’s Arts-in-Education Coordinator Peggy Low says the chance to participate in the High Arts Showcase is “a major perk” of the council’s Journey program, an immersive arts-in-education program that works to promote youths’ awareness of cultural diversity through the arts.

The Journey program, established by Sandra Chapin in 1985, now works with six school districts across Long Island: Commack, Harborfields, Huntington, Northport/East Northport, Plainview-Old Bethpage and South Huntington. All of these districts, save for South Huntington, sent student-artists to the High Arts Showcase tonight.

To promote cultural diversity in the arts, the program provides art teachers with cultural arts workshops and “discovery chests” filled with cultural artifacts, artworks, text and media to help them incorporate lessons on cultural diversity into their classroom curricula. Another major component of the Journey program is artist funding, which brings artists from all over the world to visit students and teachers at participating Long Island schools. Students at tonight’s High Arts Showcase said that they recognize the significance of the Journey program in their lives as student-artists.

Shannon O’Reilly, a 17-year-old senior who attends Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, said that she has seen herself and other students at her school benefit from participation in the Journey program. “I’ve become more aware of others’ inclusion of their own cultures in their art,” said O’Reilly. “While learning about other cultures, it’s almost as if you become more proud of your own culture. It makes you want to share your culture with others.”

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At tonight’s event, Low discussed the Journey program’s past and present successes, and future plans.

“The 30,000 students and hundreds of teachers in our participating schools are clearly benefitting from our program,” said Low. “To know that Journey could enrich the lives of so many more young people, as well as the lives of their teachers, is very exciting.”


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