Eighth Grade Arts Night + White Shirt Projects

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Arts Night heralds the opening of the annual Glen Urquhart School eighth grade arts exhibit, a stirring culmination of the students’ arts program experience. The students’ White Shirt Projects and, this year, circus-inspired modern dances captivated an audience of family, friends, and faculty.

Director of upper school Gretchen Forsyth explains: “Arts Night is an important rite of passage for our eighth graders. It’s a wonderful event in its own right, but their work also gives us a glimpse into what is to come. After a meaningful process of self-reflection and creative exploration, the students share their thoughts and bits of themselves in their gallery talks and choreographed dances. At Arts Night, students spread their wings and prepare to leave the GUS “nest,” and always I marvel at how bravely our young people put themselves out there, how confidently they share who they are in their words and their work, and how their questions, observations, and concerns reflect a deepening maturity. This year, their art and their presentations truly characterized the heart, soul, and character of this great Class of 2018.”

The much-anticipated White Shirt Projects, inspired by artists the students researched as part of their humanities curriculum, explored such themes as racism, self-awareness, friendship, and gender. The eighth graders employed photography, collage, installation, sculpture, and painting to create their original, mixed-media pieces. Through their honed and articulate speeches, the students shared the inspiration, artistic process, and self-exploration that shaped their autobiographical works.

As their first step, the eighth graders visit the Museum of Modern Art on their fall trip to New York City, seeking inspiration from and connection with a contemporary artist or past master. Ultimately, the students choose an individual artist to study. They research the artist’s biography, body of work, cultural contributions, and critical assessment, and produce a written profile. The directions for their mixed media project are (1) to draw inspiration from their chosen artist’s body of work, (2) to create a work that reflects the style and techniques of the chosen artist while also incorporating original ideas and symbolism specific to their own vision, and (3) to make a simple white oxford cloth shirt an integral component of the work. Upper school art teacher Dawn Southworth conceived of the idea for the White Shirt Project a number of years ago at an auction of commissioned “Boston Cardigan Project” artwork organized to benefit a women’s shelter in Cambridge, MA. For GUS eighth graders, the White Shirt Project is capstone curriculum through which they engage in making art, research, and public speaking, while also engaging their developing sense of self. Close work with humanities teacher Jeffrey Bartsch, other upper school teachers, and parent volunteers support this journey of discovery.

In addition to the stirring art exhibit and presentations, eighth graders performed a series of modern dance pieces in the Braemar auditorium space. With a theme of “Night at the Circus,” small groups of students danced in a lively celebration of movement. Each ensemble told their own story through student-choreographed dances enhanced by music selections and eye-catching lighting effects. The performance closed with a group piece, “Comedic Calamity,” bringing the theme to a rousing finish with original choreography by GUS dance teacher Melodie Jeffrey-Cassell. Says Jeffrey-Cassell, “The Arts Night dance concert highlights and celebrates the power of creating, devising, and collaborating on an original movement production. Through this creative journey, the students become a valuable and instrumental partner in the process of development. Truly, young artists at work!”

The eighth grade White Shirt Projects and self-portraits will be on display in the upper school galleries through early March 2018.

Joanna Murphy Scott