John Stewart program aims to expose more students to the arts

By on December 18, 2010

by Keith Beebe
ELBURN—The old adage of turning life’s lemons into lemonade might be a tad cliche at this point, but it’s a concept that seems to be working just fine for the art department at Kaneland John Stewart Elementary School.

“We applied for a $3,000 grant from Crayola where you were supposed to come up with a dream scenario for your arts program, and we submitted the idea of having a different artist give a presentation at the school each month,” said Bonnie Whildin, an art teacher at John Stewart. “I was sure we were going to get that grant, but we didn’t, so I just said, ‘Let’s see if we can still do this (idea) with all the connections we have.’”

As it turns out, quite a few artists have been more than willing to donate their time and energy to Whildin’s cause, as both she and her co-teacher, Heidi Gilkey, have put together an event intended to host a different artist on the second Wednesday of each month.

And these artists are not getting paid to appear, either.

“It’s really sweet of them to donate their time, because we really don’t have the money to pay them,” Whildin said.

Larry Cimaglio, an artist from Wheaton who specializes in glass blowing, visited John Stewart on Dec. 8 and gave a 90-minute demonstration that included students making their own glass jewelry.

“This event is intended to bring art into the school, bring artists into the school and give the community more exposure,” Cimaglio said. “I talked about glass art (during the presentation) and gave my viewpoint on the importance of art, and I cited two studies by the Guggenheim Museum that talked about the relativity between art education and literacy, and also art education and problem solving.”

Whildin said more than 30 people showed up to Cimaglio’s demonstration last Thursday evening.

“We thought that was a very good response for the first show, especially since we’re now in a paperless society and can’t send advertisements on actual paper home with the kids so their parents can read it,” Whildin said.

The next art demonstration is scheduled for Jan. 12 and will feature clay artists Joe Hernandez, a former ceramics teacher at Waubonsee Community College, and Cory McCrory. Additional art demonstrations are scheduled for Feb. 9, March 9 and April 13—the Wednesday following the Kaneland Fine Arts Festival, which will take place on April 10.

“We always think this (upcoming) Fine Arts Festival will be the best one ever, and even though we’re struggling with the finances, I think we’ll be fine,” Whildin said. “We have a good following, and I don’t believe there’s another event in the Kaneland School District that brings out 3,000 people like we do … and it’s free to get in.”