ArtsFest in the West Raises Funds for Arts Education

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WAHS student Faith Brown throws pottery. Photo: Ron Wade.

ArtsFest in the West, the annual arts and music extravaganza organized by the local philanthropic group Arts in Western Education (AWE), will hit the lights Friday, March 22, at Western Albemarle High School. The festival was revived last year after a two-year interruption due to the Covid pandemic. Strong donations and a huge turnout at that event have driven plans to expand and rearrange the offerings this year.

Jordan Zarwel, an alum of Albemarle’s western schools and president of AWE, said that for starters, the hundreds of artists, musicians, and attendees packed into WAHS’ cafeteria will be given more room to roam. “I don’t think any of us anticipated the turnout [last year], which was fantastic, but we are definitely going to be spreading out more this year,” she said. 

“Many of the musical performances will be in the auditorium, which I think will help space-wise and also with visibility of the performers,” said Zarwel. “But it will also increase the excitement, especially for the elementary students who will perform on the stage. I think it will be a really big deal for them to be on that great big stage and see all those people watching.”

The silent auction, food sales, and some of the smaller performances will still be in the cafeteria, with the idea that families can flow back and forth based on their interests. “We’re going to have more live art demos, like the potter’s wheel and face painting, as well as art displays, and we’re hoping to have a photo booth organized by the photography classes,” said Zarwel. “I also think it would be cool to have some caricature artists and also people doing drawings or paintings of the event, like you see sometimes at wedding ceremonies or receptions. We want to showcase all sorts of art.”

Cast members of the upcoming WAHS theatrical production of “The Addams Family,” which will be previewed at the March 22 Artsfest in the West. From left to right front row: Mia Rannigan, Sarah Garland, Ella Barber, Phoenix Claibourn, Ollie Nacey. Back row: Fabel Monroe, Jacob Walton, Zoey Sauerwein, Jake Beard, Kylee Hughes, Lucy Shadel, Makayla Whiting, Audrey Scialla, Riley Evans. Very back: Jack Jahoda Wassung. Photo: Ron Wade.

AWE is a nonprofit that supports the arts in western district schools and puts on the annual ArtsFest as a fundraiser to provide teacher grants and student scholarships. ArtsFest is the group’s primary fundraising event, and they were delighted to receive several large donations last year, such as a $10,000 gift from WAHS parents Camilyn and Peter Leone, who have generously re-upped with the same amount this year. “We had 15 teacher grant applications in this cycle coming from all six schools we serve, totaling over $13,000,” said Zarwel. “We hope to fully fund all of these requests, which range from elementary classroom instruments to new microphones for the drama department.”

WAHS digital media teacher Kelly Burnette consistently takes advantage of AWE’s grant funding to provide more opportunities for her students’ diverse interests. “Some of the kids are more interested in drawing, others in photography or graphic design,” said Burnette. “We do a lot of work with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator, and I try to give my advanced students especially a lot of freedom. I apply for an AWE grant every year—this year I applied for funds to buy two digital cameras for students to use, and they usually give us money for creative writing to help publish our literary magazine, Myriad. They are super generous—I applied for $1,500 for the two projects and they are always so gracious with the funding.”

WAHS juniot Victoria Baynum shows off an acrylic design she painted on an upright bass in her advanced art class. Photo: Ron Wade.

WAHS junior Victoria Baynum is a multi-talented arts student who painted an upright bass in her advanced art class. “I play guitar and so does my boyfriend, and for his birthday I painted a pick card for guitar, and that became part of my portfolio,” she said. She then tackled the bass, first sanding the wood, then applying and sanding a gesso substrate layer, tinting it pink so the rosy underglow influenced the acrylic paint on top. “I liked painting on a surface that wasn’t canvas—I had to kind of think around the shape of the instrument.”

Baynum’s design includes flowers, trees, birds, and animals in crisp bright colors. “I wanted to do something folk-inspired, and there are a lot of organic elements in there,” she said. “I’ve also done a violin and another piece of an upright bass that the shop teacher cut off for me from a broken instrument in the band room.” She said the art department has been very supportive of her unusual work. “I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to put all this stuff together without them.”

Donations have also poured into the Artsfest event in the form of food and auction items such as art from Isabelle Abbot and several other celebrated local artists, a UVA football fan experience, and a great variety of items from Crozet businesses. “This year we’re adding some local businesses who will donate food items for people to snack on,” said Zarwel. “Crozeli and Sunset Slush are on our list, as well as baked goods from WAHS’s own ‘Bake a Difference.’ I think it’s great for the small businesses, too, to get their name out there in a very community-building way.”

Another tradition at ArtsFest is a short preview performance of the high school’s spring musical, which this year will be “The Addams Family.” That show was originally planned for 2020 and was canceled when schools closed, so the drama and music programs are excited to be getting back to it. “Joel Hartshorn [WAHS’ band director] is in charge of the whole schedule and layout of the performers [for Artsfest], and he said the show will be amazing,” said Zarwel. “Western drama is really on a whole other level, it’s awesome.”

WAHS junior Kai Fusco photographs still life fruit in the darkroom of his photography class. Photo: Ron Wade.

This year, as at last year’s event, AWE will announce its Fine Arts Scholars—students who have applied to receive scholarship funds for arts education and who will serve as members of the AWE board for the next year. “The scholars who are serving this year are awesome,” said Zarwel. “They’ve been to every single meeting and they represent a lot of the different arts—visual, drama, music, everything. It’s really nice to get the inside scoop of what’s going on and their perspective and ideas.” AWE will also announce its art and poetry contest winners at ArtsFest, and will highlight western district teachers who have been selected to receive funds for arts projects in their schools.

AWE’s Zarwel is passionate about the arts education cause, and has felt its benefits first hand. “I was a horrible student, I had learning disabilities and felt like I wasn’t good at anything in school,” she said. “The only place where I felt good was being in the art room, where I could feel like I was doing something right. I know I’m not the only one who feels like that. People sometimes overlook the holistic benefits of arts education, and part of our job is to help them connect the dots and see what it can do for any student.”

ArtsFest Performance Schedule:

  • 6 – 6:40 p.m. Henley/WAHS Choir (in auditorium)
  • 6:45 – 7 p.m. Ivy Elementary Bluebird Choir/Ivy Elementary Ukulele Ensemble (in auditorium)
  • 7:10 – 7:30 p.m. Henley 8th grade Orchestra combined with WAHS Orchestra (in auditorium)
  • 7:35 – 8 p.m. Henley Jazz (in cafeteria)
  • 8:05 – 8:40 p.m. WAHS Jazz (in cafeteria)
  • 8:45 – 9 p.m. Musical Preview (in auditorium)

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