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Artists who educate: Art in the Burbs continues to fund art literacy programs

COURTESY OF SAMARA HOWELL - Art in the Burbs has played a major role in keeping Art Literacy programs alive in schools throughout the Tigard-Tualatin School District, last year giving $1,000 grants to every elementary school in the district (and more to middle and high schools).

For the 17th year in a row, local artists are gathering to help raise funds for student artists during the annual Art in the Burbs festival, hosted by The Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools.

More than 85 juried artists — an all-time high — will sell a range of original works, including jewelry, ceramics, hanging works, cards, textiles and more.

Twenty percent of each artist’s sales will go toward the Foundation, directly supporting performing, writing, music and fine arts programs at schools across the district.

Two participating artists with ties to Tigard-Tualatin schools shared firsthand experiences about the difference Art in the Burbs makes.

“Without it, we honestly wouldn’t have had art literacy last year, because there was just no money,” said Samara Howell, a photographer who is selling her work for the second year at the festival.

Howell’s photographic philosophy is “to see the awe in little bits of nature.”

She captures close-up shots featuring phenomena such as illuminated water droplets, seasonal shifts and natural light.

As the co-coordinator of the art literacy program at James Templeton Elementary School, Howell tries to instill that passion for art in students. But she faces challenges in making sure the program has enough funding to be sustainable.

The vast majority of art literacy funding at Templeton comes from Art in the Burbs.

Art literacy is a district-sponsored program, but its budget is tight, she said. Grants from festival proceeds help schools purchase art supplies in bulk.

Last year’s Art in the Burbs event raised $26,250, which was distributed in grants to all district schools — $4,000 to each high school, $2,750 to each middle school and $1,000 for each elementary school.

At Alberta Rider Elementary School, where the festival was held for a decade before moving to Tigard High School this year, its art literacy program also depends on grants.

Laura Koppes, a painter who will be selling her original works at the festival for the first time this weekend, has presented art literacy lessons at Alberta Rider for years.

For Koppes, working with children in the art literacy program was the impetus to rekindle her own artistic inclinations. While she connected with art in high school, life took her on a different path.

COURTESY OF LAURA KOPPES - Laura Koppes, a painter who will be selling her original works at the Art in the Burbs festival for the first time this weekend, has presented art literacy lessons at Alberta Rider Elementary School for years.

“This got me back on the right track to start pursuing this again,” said Koppes.

Today, she creates abstract, expressionist paintings inspired by human emotion and the natural world. Her eye is drawn to the first frost of the morning, and to the way autumn transform the tone of light.

“My art is very personal,” said Koppes, who also teaches student enrichment classes for The Foundation for Tigard Tualatin Schools’ SEED program.

During art literacy classes, students are exposed to a range of different artists and mediums through hands-on learning experiences.

“It takes a lot of work to run the program,” said Howell.

Last year, Howell and her team of volunteers led students through an activity where they created Aboriginal Australian-inspired artworks using a dot-painting technique on cut flat wood.

During another session, students were stumped by a freestyle drawing project. Howell attributed it to a lack of creative opportunities in their schools.

“A lot of them ... you give them this chance to be free, and some of them don’t know what to do with it,” said Howell. “It was exciting to watch them have that opportunity.”

Koppes said she is amazed at the difference the program makes in the lives of students.

“I remember doing it in a classroom, where afterward, a teacher was shocked that one of the students kept raising her hand. She had never seen that student participate like that,” said Koppes.

Both Koppes and Howell shared that students light up with excitement every time they see the art literacy cart being wheeled through the hallways.

Art education is crucial to student success, said Koppes.

“The one thing everybody needs to be able to survive is learning how to be creative,” she said. “Learning to think in different ways and experimenting with different things.”

For Howell, the applications of art extend beyond her lessons.

“When we do an origami project, that totally ties into math and science, all the ways you can divide a square up. When we do totem poles, we’re dealing with the idea of symmetry,” said Howell.

“Art is a form of communication that is different from normal, everyday communication,” said Koppes. “I think it gives people a different voice.”

Art in the Burbs:

This year, for the first time, the festival will be held at Tigard High School. From Friday through Sunday, the high school’s gym will be transformed into a celebration of the arts.

“First Look” Friday

Oct. 14: 6 to 9 p.m. $3 fee at

the door

Saturday, Oct. 15: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 16: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. $2 suggested donation for Saturday and Sunday