To fulfill its purpose to provide funds advancing the arts in our community, Darke County Endowment for the Arts annually offers grants to give local residents and organizations resources they need for artistic activities and projects. When Mississinawa Valley School’s art department sent their thank you for having received Endowment funds during last year’s grant cycle making possible the purchase of digital cameras to establish a Photography Class, their accompanying delightful photographs were wonderful to behold, inspiring a classroom visit to learn more.
The class of mostly rural teens got right to work upon arriving in the Art Room, working alone or in collaboration with others, utilizing various skills — creativity, problem-solving, even math principles — and persevering to create delightful, innovative, unique works of art under the watchful supervision of their teacher Ashley Austerman, and visiting artist, photographer Timothy Wells. I observed a small group of boys having a great time meticulously making clay sculptures which were patiently placed and replaced before the camera to capture each placement; at the end of the period, they proudly showed me the amazing film they had crafted. One girl who was busily creating a stop-action film that would show a cheery balloon floating across a cloud-filled sky told me that this class has helped confirm her interest in making a career of studio photography or videography. “I enjoy taking pictures and exploring new things,” she confided.
However, Mr. Wells, who has an MFA in Photography from Wayne State University, reminded me that skills achieved in the Art Room also positively affect the lives of those not intending to become artists, even if they only learn how to take better pictures using cellphones. He then proved his point by showing me student-produced photos including an absolutely beautiful portrait of an obviously beloved pick-up truck and a dynamic photo of one of the boys working in the welding shop. In addition to honing up-to-date skills, students were also taught to build primitive pin-hole cameras which they then used to produce fascinating images in black and white.
Mr. Wells’ residency is made possible by a grant from the Ohio Arts Council procured by Mrs. Austerman, the second OAC grant funding art projects she has acquired for Mississinawa Valley. The main focus of this OAC grant (which the funds from DCEA support) is to create an artwork that will be permanently displayed to inspire pride in and enhance the entire community. A mural focusing on local landmarks is currently being designed by the students; the actual size and location of the finished piece is yet to be determined, and ultimate installation will depend upon the success of a fundraising campaign initiated by the instructors to solicit support for community art. (To learn more, contact [email protected] or call her at 937-968-4664, ext. 2219.)
“This is a very resilient group of students,” Mr. Wells told me. “I’ve seen them react to the challenges of the past year by just getting to work; they are always willing to put forth the effort to do a good job,” he explained. The visiting artist says that his aim is to guide the students so that they can create the mural they want, taking pride in and ownership of their accomplishment. He is happily assisting the students in creating their own narrative—sometimes by coming into the Art Room on their own time to work on their projects. Creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, and a strong work ethic abound at MV.
The ultimate goal of all art is communication; MV art students are being inspired to send positive messages through their artwork, in the hope that their community will take pride in those creations. That goal coalesces perfectly with DCEA’s mission. To support the Endowment so that exciting and worthwhile artistic projects can continue to benefit our community, contact DCEA at www.supportdcea.org or P.O. Box 155, Greenville, OH 45331. If you are seeking funds for an arts project to enhance lives in our community, visit the Endowment’s website to download the application, request an application by mail, or pick up the form at Greenville Public Library; the deadline for applications is April 30, 2021.