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Celebrating 20 years of Art Literacy

'The most successful volunteer program in the school district,' Art Literacy is celebrating the completion of 20 years in Lake Oswego elementary and junior high schools. The Art Literacy Resource Team invites everyone to join the anniversary celebration, Saturday, Sept. 16, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Millennium Plaza Park. The anniversary cake will be cut at 11 a.m.

The Art Literacy program came to Lake Oswego in 1985 from Beaverton School District where it originated. My two children attended Hallinan Elementary School and I became a classroom volunteer the first year. I had a degree in art history and had been an elementary school teacher. Like other parents, I saw the value in exposing students to the rich world of art. Volunteers are required to attend a monthly meeting lead by the school coordinator. Another volunteer prepares and presents information about an artist, using slides of the artist's work to illustrate the lesson. Then it is show time. Each volunteer arranges a regular time to visit their assigned classroom to present the slides and information to the students, followed by a hands-on art project related to what they had just learned. Everyone is learning about art: The coordinators, the presenters, the volunteers, the students and the classroom teacher. As they say, 'What's not to love?'

Just into the third year, our school coordinator moved out of state and I became the new coordinator. When I first attended a districtwide meeting of coordinators, we all agreed that the program was good but it needed improvement. Working together we set about to make that happen. Each school's parent association provided funding. The district provided support on many levels: A district liaison, funds, copies and art material at each school. We bought professional slides and reproductions, established a set of standardized policies and procedures, developed better support materials, etc. Soon I found myself in the dual role as school coordinator and the first district coordinator. And I loved it!

The late 1980s were a rich time for art education in Portland. Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Education Trust was leading the way. Simply defined, DBAE says there are four things (disciplines) you can do with art: Look at it, understand its history, value it and make it. A complete and worthwhile art program would include all of these activities. DBAE classes were available through Lewis and Clark College and Portland State University. I took all of them. I started to put together a lesson format based on what I was learning as a classroom volunteer, school coordinator and district coordinator with what I already knew about art and teaching. Informed by the DBAE classes and trainings that Beaverton shared, the lessons became DBAE-based.

During the l990s Our Lady of the Lake School joined the program. School coordinator Marilyn Katcher and I shared the vision of extending the program into the junior high schools and worked to make that happen. When I started teaching art at Our Lady of the Lake School it was time to retire. After 10 wonderful years I left Art Literacy in the very capable hands of a newly formed five member Resource Team.

The Resource Team has worked diligently to guide and improve the program. Materials are continually upgraded. Training is facilitated by a video they produced. Students' artwork is displayed at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts. Technology is having an impact on Art Literacy as some schools are now using Power Point presentations and have their own Art Literacy Web site.

In 2004 the Lake Oswego Foundation for the Arts recognized the program with its Art Award. During the past 20 years, tens of thousands of Lake Oswego students, thousands of Art Literacy volunteers (currently more than 400) and hundreds of teachers have become 'Art Literate.' Everyone has reason to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Art Literacy, 'The most successful volunteer program in the school district!'

Barbara 'Lane' Fisher, Lake Oswego, is the art teacher at Our Lady of the Lake School and formerly was district coordinator for the Art Literacy program (10 years), and member and chair of the Lake Oswego Arts Commission.