It had all the trappings of a traditional opening reception at a swanky gallery.
A string ensemble played in the background.
Servers slalomed through the crowd with trays of hors d’oeuvres.
Patrons roamed the space, contemplating the works on display.
But yesterday’s unveiling at the Des Moines Art Center was different, too.
First and foremost, 130 precocious artists from Findley Elementary School debuted their first commission, Mile a Minute: Rainbow Ivy. As their art teacher, Lisa Hesse, noted during the ceremonial remarks portion of the program that featured a welcome from Art Center Director Jeff Fleming, “These kids are 3rd and 5th graders and they already have artwork on display at a museum. I’ve never had artwork on display at a museum!”
Most of the hoopla was happening indoors, but the piece that Findley collaborated on with Brooklyn artist Dave Eppley was on prominent display outside, on the DMAC’s exterior façade, where it will stay until January. Sunday’s weather was brisk but beautiful and shined a sunny spotlight on the masterpiece, so far, of the school’s Turnaround Arts curriculum integration that began in 2012.
A steady stream of visitors, many of whom bussed over from school on the shuttle provided by the district, snapped photos of the piece. Contributors like Findley 3rd grader Fox Thompson pointed out the colorful hexagonal bouquets they personally designed to their proud families. Fox’s parents, George and Mary, and his sister Stella beamed at his work. Fox was more reserved on the surface, but equally proud when asked to talk about what he’d accomplished.
“That’s mine, right up there, in that blue and green area,” he said. “Yes, I was excited about this project as soon as we found out about it, but it really looks good to see it now, up on the wall.”
Art galleries are typically as hush-hush as libraries, but the Findley presence yesterday announced itself in more than visual ways. Principal Barb Adams led the crowd in three “Findley cheers” for 1] Findley Arts Integration Specialists Hesse and music teacher Jane Olson, 2] the Des Moines Art Center and 3] Eppley, who was happy to split the limelight 130 ways.
“I can’t tell you how moved I am to share this with all of you, the faces behind the hexagons,” he said. Though everyone worked with the same basic shape, “the diversity of your designs is amazing. Each one is as unique as each of you. Thank you all.”
Hesse said Mile a Minute: Rainbow Ivy touched all of the important bases at Findley.
“This was a trifecta for us. First, it obviously fits our Turnaround Arts emphasis. Secondly, our Dreamer Academy at Findley is all about planning for a big personal future and the kids got to work on this with an artist who has made a career out of his art. And third, we are also a School for Rigor, and that requires meaningful instruction where kids team up and learn from each other.”
Oh, the string ensemble, by the way, was from North High School, where the Findley kids are headed in a few years. After that they’ll split off in all sorts of exciting directions, like the colorful vine that grew this fall at Findley and yesterday was transplanted – to an art museum!