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Last month I overheard a conversation between two area art teachers. They were discussing the student artwork they were submitting to a competition in Omaha. The Columbus Public School art teacher said she entered abstract work by her students because they just couldn’t compete in drawing or painting with the Lincoln and Omaha students.

The Columbus Public School system isn’t competitive? How could this have happened? Would we have let this happen in any other subject or sport?

The students from Columbus do not have a visual art teacher until they are in middle school. This is true for Columbus Public, Scotus and Lakeview. I am not a Columbus native, but I asked around and believe Columbus has never had art instructors on staff for the elementary schools.

My first question was: “Is this true for other communities in Nebraska?”

My second question was: “Should we let this continue?”

I contacted the public schools systems in 12 other communities in Nebraska through their Web sites or by phone. These communities represented the largest school systems in Nebraska and were Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Grand Island, Kearney, Fremont, Hastings, North Platte, Norfolk, Papillion/LaVista, Elkhorn and Millard.

All of these schools have visual art teachers in their elementary schools except Grand Island and North Platte. When I called the administrative offices of these two school systems to verify they didn’t have art teachers in their elementary schools they both said: “No, but we have an orchestra program.”

Is orchestra interchangeable or a replacement for art? Both are worthwhile, and many school systems listed above offer elementary students both. Columbus schools offer neither.

The visual arts instruction Columbus elementary students are given is up to the classroom teacher or a video series. There are some wonderful elementary teachers in Columbus who do spend time teaching art, and I hope your child was fortunate to be one of their students.

There is so much pressure put on these teachers by “No Child Left Behind,” but what about no subject left behind? Is it fair to these hard-working teachers to ask them to teach art? Is it fair to our students to make them wait until middle school to learn color theory or perspective?

The visual arts are so important to the development of children and “can be defined as two distinct activities, art making and art appreciation,” according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Ways you can encourage visual art creation in your own home are to provide a space to exhibit artwork to show you value their creative endeavors and to create an “art space” in your home with a variety art materials.

There are many ways to encourage art appreciation: visit the library and check out books featuring famous works of art, find art in the every-day world (ie. murals, sculptures, architecture) or visit a museum or art gallery.

The Columbus Art Gallery has a wonderful exhibit on display to share with your children. It is an exhibit of Contemporary Artworks by Nebraska artists on loan from the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. Robert and Linda Labenz, of Columbus Bank and Trust, have generously sponsored this exhibit. There are many art pieces in this exhibit that do not fall into the traditional category. Included in the exhibit are assemblages, installations and textiles (ask an art student what these terms mean or stop into the Columbus Art Gallery and ask Lisa or me).

I wanted to end this article by thanking the art teachers we have working in the Columbus schools. They work hard to provide visual arts education to our middle school and high school students. Thank you, Jane Mlinar, Stacey Bergmark, Tim Garth, Megan Reynolds, Nancy Shadle and Diane Noonan for all the work you do for our youth.

Upcoming Events at the Columbus Art Gallery and Columbus Arts Council include:

n The February exhibit of the Museum of Nebraska Art traveling exhibit entitled “Contemporary Artwork by Nebraska Artists.”

n Preschool StoryART times at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. StoryART dates Feb. 25, Mar. 11 and 25, April and 22 and May 6.

n Bus trips to the Lied Center in Lincoln priced at $90 per person (CAC members receive a discount). “South Pacific” Saturday, Feb. 27, and the world’s foremost cellist, YoYo Ma, Sunday, March 21. The “South Pacific” trip is sold out and only a few tickets remain to YoYo Ma. Call the Columbus Art Gallery at 563-1016 to reserve YoYo Ma tickets. The bus trips are co-sponsored by Central Community College-Columbus.

The Columbus Arts Council’s mission is to “enrich the community through the promotion and sponsorship of the fine arts.” Use our gallery, staff and events as your local resource for opportunities to enrich your life with the arts. Check our Web site at www.artscolumbusne.org or visit us on Facebook by searching for “Columbus Nebraska Arts Council.”

Susan Schoenhofer is the executive director of the Columbus Arts Council.

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