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Residency Brings Stained-Glass Art to White Mountain School; Dunleavy Budget Could Put Programs Like It at Risk

Orange wall decorated with stained-glass masks made by students.
Completed stained glass masks made by White Mountain high school students during Jim Kaiser's 2019 Artists in Schools residency. Photo: Amber Klepper, used with permission.

The Bering Strait School District frequently finds ways to bring arts programs into its schools, something Governor Mike Dunleavy’s recently proposed budget, if approved, may complicate.

KNOM’s Katie Kazmierski reports on a recent artist residency in White Mountain made possible by the state program Artists in Schools.

White Mountain School welcomed stained glass artist Jim Kaiser for a 2-week residency late last month, working with Pre-K through 12th-grade kids to create their own stained-glass pieces. The residency started January 21 and ended February 1, with a community art show showcasing kids’ projects.

Jim Kaiser demonstrates cutting glass with 4th grader Lana Ashenfelter. Photo: Terrence Merfeld, used with permission.

This wasn’t the first time the school brought in the Girdwood-based artist: Kaiser has visited White Mountain several times over the last 25 years. According to Robin Child, an Arts Integration Teacher/Facilitator at Bering Strait School District (BSSD), some parents this year remembered making their own projects with him as students.

“White Mountain School, I mean, walking through any of the classrooms, they have stained glass pieces that were created throughout different residencies with Jim.”

Over the course of two weeks, all students, pre-K to 12th grade, cycled through classes with Kaiser, carefully cutting glass and arranging shapes into their own projects to take home. According to White Mountain School Art Liaison, Mackenzie Ervin, high school students were able to make stained glass masks “representing many things having to do with Alaskan culture.” Ervin reports kids were excited to work hands-on with stained glass, especially when Kaiser held finished projects up to the light, so they could fully admire their work.

Jim Kaiser demonstrates stained glass techniques for preschool students in White Mountain. Photo: Shelley Pederson, used with permission.

But it wasn’t just kids who got to create something over the course of the residency. Robin Child says that whenever BSSD hosts arts events like the Artists in Schools program, there’s usually a built-in community involvement component, too.

“Jim Kaiser, for example, in White Mountain, had a couple of different Saturday sessions where community members could come in and learn, in this case, stained glass techniques and create a glass piece to take home. And then there’s also an art celebration that shows all of the work that students created throughout the two-week residency… for celebrating student creativity and their work.”

Child says BSSD typically hosts 7 to 8 artists residencies a year. This year, they’ve already done residences in Diomede and Gambell, with Kaiser’s residency in White Mountain being the third. Once statewide testing is over starting in March, the district plans to host artists in Brevig Mission, Elim, Shishmaref, St. Michael, Unalakleet, and Wales in the coming months.

The White Mountain program was funded over the last 30 years in part by Artists in Schools, a program administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA). John Weemes is the Coordinator of Program Support at BSSD. He says the district has leaned on the Artists in Schools program heavily over the years, and he’s quick to share why he thinks bringing the arts into schools is important.

“…it’s a platform for giving and receiving critical feedback, for continuous improvement. And the dispositions of an artist are the dispositions of a medical practitioner, are the dispositions of an engineer, of a subsistence hunter. And in our schools, the arts are a common strand in all content areas and a vehicle for self-actualization, for expanding one’s perspectives…”

But the Alaska State Council on the Arts, along with its Artists in Schools program, would be gutted if Dunleavy’s recent budget proposal passes. Cutting these entities/programs affects funding, and Superintendent of BSSD Dr. Robert Bolen says districts will have to determine the importance of arts programs when moving forward with their budget plans in response to what the state puts out.

Bolen feels arts programs are key to developing “lifelong skills” in students.

“These are programs that help get out students engaged in learning, so they’re very important to our students, to our communities…”

White Mountain community members gather for a night celebrating students’ completed work with Jim Kaiser, stained glass artist, at the close of his 2-week residency. Photo: Amber Klepper, used with permission.

BSSD has been working to bring in regional teaching artists in addition to its work with statewide artists involved on the Artists in Schools roster.

As far as funding goes, Superintendent Bolen says the state’s budget draft will have an impact, but at this time, it’s unclear just how much of an impact.

Image at top: Completed stained glass masks made by White Mountain high school students during Jim Kaiser’s residency at the school. Photo: Amber Klepper, used with permission.

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