Avonworth unveils Galleries Project

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Avonworth senior Sarah Trobee is graduating this year, but she’s leaving a lasting impression on the walls of her high school in the form of black walls and images of current female pop stars a la Andy Warhol.

Sarah, 18, was among 46 students who volunteered for The Avonworth Pittsburgh Galleries Project. Funded by a $10,000 grant from Sprout’s Hive Fund for Connected Learning, this was a first-of-its-kind arts program in which students designed, created, curated and managed exhibition spaces on the high school campus in Ohio Township.

“We could pick any hallway or surface in the high school building," Sarah said. "We just couldn’t paint the lockers.” She was part of the group that was inspired by representatives from the Andy Warhol Museum, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Carnegie Museum of Art, Toonseum and the Mattress Factory.

Serving as mentors for students throughout the school year, the museum representatives taught the teens how to curate spaces in their school to reflect the characteristics and mediums of the partnering museums. The resulting art installations were unveiled April 22 during the districtwide annual art show.

The Galleries project was the brainchild of principal Kenneth Lockette, whose background includes a bachelor's degree in theater. “I wanted to bring the arts to the forefront; to enhance students’ critical thinking skills, as well as math skills and learning to work with adults in a professional setting,” he said. The program was voluntary and took place throughout the school year whenever students had the time.

“I wanted to work on our hallway all the time,” said Sarah, noting that finding time to work on the art installation was the most difficult part of the project. Throughout the process, she said she learned organization and time-management skills, along with how to make a budget, order supplies, deal with problems and field a variety of opinions from the rest of the student body.

Sophomore Abby Oberdick, 16, said the experience has influenced her decision to take more art classes next year. Her father, David, who serves as school board president, said he appreciates that his daughter’s school is doing more in terms of arts education. “In an era where all you hear about is budget cuts, the opportunity to do something like this is tremendous,” he said.

Art teacher Kerri Villani said she  was thrilled with the way students got to learn about the unseen aspects of art such as criticism. “They found out you can’t please everyone, but you have to respect others’ opinions,” she noted. “When they got backlash, they learned to take it in stride.”

Participants were able to meet artists such as photographer Zoe Strauss, who took photos of Homestead residents and created an art installation. Senior Bryce Volk, 18, helped her group do the same type of project with photos of Avonworth residents.

“Meeting Zoe was so inspiring, and we quickly realized that it was her personality that helped her get the images she wanted," said Bryce. "So, we followed her lead, because we wanted to capture variety in our installation and show off all the different people who live in Avonworth.”

Junior Isaac Schmitt, 17, marveled that he had a hand in changing the look and atmosphere of his school.

“This experience was and still is and will continue to be amazing,” he said. "These pieces will be part of the Avonworth community, which will allow people to see the school in a different way long into the future. Schools don’t normally have the open-mindedness to do this type of thing, but they put faith in us and gave us free rein to do whatever we wanted. This is the deinstitutionalization of school.”

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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