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Student art fills gallery at Firehouse Art Center

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to show not only adults but maybe younger kids that art is something that you can actually pursue,” Ditslear said. 
student art
Collage of art displayed at the Firehouse Art Center by Skyline High School students

Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center returns to its roots by showcasing student art in its galleries once again. 

Skyline High School Visual Performing Arts Academy students will showcase their work in a month-long exhibition in an art gallery. Nine pieces of art from the students’ capstone projects range in the medium of 2D design, 3D design, and drawing. 

The exhibit is one of many that Firehouse Art Center has put on display that highlights youth artists. However, the art center has not had such an event in a while, Brandy Coons, curator at Firehouse Art Center, said.

“Before Arts Longmont shuttered, their exhibitions calendar included more student work and the who galleries complemented each other … in their absence the Firehouse has looked into filling that gap in our local arts ecosystem as best we can,” Coons said. 

When Skyline educators approached the Firehouse Arts Center, the art gallery was very interested to show the students’ work, Coons said. 

For the past 15 years, the VPA program has given students grades 9-12 at Skyline High School space for artistic expression and education. Assistant Superintendent, at the time, Don Haddad, now superintendent, recommended that an arts program be put in place after noticing a strong inclination at the high school. That’s when art teachers like Jennifer McLees and Carolyn Root stepped in.

“I have been in the room with the VPA Academy since its inception,” McLees said. 

Today, the program holds roughly 60 students. What’s important, McLees says, is that the students do not have to focus on art to apply or be accepted into the program. Throughout the year, students have multiple chances to display their artwork through the VPA program’s fine arts festival, capstone showcases as well as winter and spring showcases.

When COVID hit, though, McLees and Root were at a halt with how to get their students' artwork seen. When the art program teachers sat down to meet, the idea of reaching out to local galleries came up. The first gallery that came to mind was the Firehouse Art Center. 

“I started there because we have done stuff in the past ... to show and give some award, they’ve done it every year,” Root said. 

The eagerness to work together was shared by both organizations, as it took only two days for Coons to reply to Root’s request.

For students like Aidan Burke, Lia Ditslear and Sofia Narvaez the showcase allows for the opportunity to share their artwork with the community and be seen. 

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to show not only adults but maybe younger kids that art is something that you can actually pursue,” Ditslear said. 

Ditslear, a senior at Skyline, will be showcasing a drawing as a commentary on the beauty of skin in itself. Having a mother with vitiligo — a condition in which the skin loses its pigment cells — Ditslear uses her art as a way to highlight the beauty of skin, especially in what mainstream society may not define as beautiful. In previous pieces, she has made drawings depicting bruises as a sense of pride, rather than to show pain. 

“Like in sports when you get a bruise in boxing or roller derby, those bruises are more like badges,” she said. 

Senior Sofia Narvaez is using her showcase piece as a commentary on herself. The quilt, which has taken her six months to sew, has been a nostalgic experience that has allowed her to reflect back on her life, especially within the past year throughout the pandemic, she said. 

Narvaez has already received some recognition for the work done on her quilt, winning the Scholastic Gold Key Art Award for six of the pieces that are in her quilt. For Narvaez, the self-reflexivity of her artwork is what keeps her inspired. 

“I always find myself falling back into self-portraiture. I always find myself, at least in the pandemic, making art about myself because that’s where I’m at, we’re by ourselves,” Narvaez said. 

Junior Aidan Burke is bringing two pieces to the showcase. 

“The first one is 2D and a combination of watercolor, pen, and crayons. It’s about being helpless while letting emotions and fears take you over. My second is a 3D piece more so about bringing a 2D world into a 3D world, having the piece sort of mold outside of the picture, coming to life in a way to have it come at you,” Burke said. 

Drawing inspiration from emotional situations in his own life, Burke often brings a childlike innocence into his pieces to emphasize the emotion, he said. 

Working with students allows Firehouse Art Center, to not only fill its gallery walls but to bring attention and recognition to Longmont’s youth artists. 

“I once had a painting teacher who kept wooden frames in various styles in the classroom and would place them over our work to emphasize that you don’t really see your painting until you see it framed: the students will have the experience of seeing their own work more like others see it, and learn more about the unique challenges involved in a professional presentation,” Coons said. 

Highlighting these artists also brings people into the gallery that may not otherwise engage, Coons said, helping forge stronger connections with the community. 

“We’re not a community arts space without them (the community), and the students are part of that,” Coons said. 

The exhibition will be on display in the South Gallery of the Firehouse Art Center from April 9 to May 10. Those who wish to attend the opening night of the exhibit are encouraged to register through Eventbrite here. The gallery is open Wednesday-Friday 12 pm..-5 p.m. by appointment only, with walk-ins on the weekends from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. with a five-person capacity.