Shining light on an exciting artistic adventure


By Marilyn Delk

“For there is always light

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Inspired by these final lines of youth poet-laureate Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” Mississinawa Valley art teacher Ashley Austerman and visiting resident artist Susan Byrnes developed an impressive project centered around “LIGHT” in which students explore the subject as a metaphor, as a physical phenomenon, and as an artistic resource. This audacious effort is already underway, with students’ having gained a great deal of artistic knowledge and amazing skill in a wide variety of areas.

Resident artist Susan Byrnes’ broad resume as a visual artist encompasses traditional and contemporary forms and practices including photography, sculpture and multimedia installation, as well as writing and broadcasting, all of which contribute to the expanse of the project which includes creation of a podcast entitled “Shine A Light On Art” wherein students document and reflect upon what they learn and accomplish. The eclectic, personable artist clearly enjoys working with MV students, who are sincerely dedicated to and take pride in the project.

Having been trained in use of various tools by FFA Advisor Carmen Hartzell, the art students are working with the school’s Agriculture Department to expertly utilize essential shop equipment as they strive to fulfill their project’s ultimate goals. As work progresses to complete the initial stage in which light and shadow projections will be installed as part of Union City’s downtown Christmas display, teams of high school girls and boys confidently work together — on jigsaws! — to bring their creations to life. Small stencils have been enlarged many times to ultimately create the wood forms — trees, snowmen, a flaming hearth, a bow-topped gift package, a snow globe, and a gingerbread house, plus a traditional sled and a snowmobile — through which light will be projected, brightening the local holiday celebration for one and all. And that’s only the beginning of the enlightening benefit that “LIGHT” will cast upon MV students and their surroundings.

This art project incorporates many academic disciplines within its ambitious parameters, engendering math, science, technological and engineering skills while students work to achieve outstanding artistic outcomes. In addition, community involvement is integral to the endeavor, with end results culminating in art being displayed for all citizens to enjoy. The residency is made possible by an Ohio Arts Council grant; the city of Union City, Indiana, provides lodging for the visiting artist, retail establishments have donated supplies, neighboring businesses and corporations offer additional financial assistance, and the Mississinawa Valley Classroom Teachers Association has pledged generous financial support for the students’ project.

Darke County Endowment for the Arts also contributed funding for this effort; in addition to supporting “LIGHT,” DCEA provided funding during the 2020-2021 school year enabling MV Art Department to purchase several digital cameras for its previous ambitious project which ultimately resulted in the installation of a colorful mural that now and for the foreseeable future beautifies a railroad underpass in Union City, Ohio. Those cameras, which so inspired student interest in photography that two classes in the discipline are now necessary to meet current demand, are also integral to completion of this project, as photography is created by the capturing of light, a magical process Susan Byrnes describes as “the ephemeral becoming tangible.”

The Endowment annually grants funds to local organizations, individuals and governmental units furthering the arts in our community, enhancing not only the present, but also enriching the future for all Darke Countians, as evidenced by the exciting benefits of funding provided to Mississinawa Valley Art Department.

To learn more about how you can help keep the arts alive in our community through your donations and legacy gifts to Darke County Endowment for the Arts, visit, or contact DCEA at P.O. Box 155, Greenville, OH 45331.

Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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