EL CENTRO — Music, paintings, food, sculptures, and auction bids collided at the inaugural Autumn & the Arts by the Foundation for Education — the nonprofit arm of the Imperial County Office of Education — Thursday, Oct. 7, at ICOE in El Centro.
The Autumn & the Arts event functioned as a way for Imperial County 8-12 graders to showcase their creations in paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as having students on-hand for live musical performances and culinary arts school programs providing the food for the evening.
“We needed to look for an event that fills a niche and really supports one of our priorities, which is arts in education,” said Foundation President and ICOE Superintendent Dr. J. Todd Finnell.
“We thought, 'How can we celebrate the wonderful programs at our schools and really highlight those at an event where we can bring folks together to bring about their understanding about what's happening in our schools, celebrating all of the arts — the culinary arts, performing arts, music, painting, sculpture — you name it,’” he said, “so it's just been an amazing showcase of what our students are doing in arts education.”
“What makes me most proud of this event is knowing that we provided a venue for so many of these students to be able to showcase their talents,” he said.
Finnell said the ICOE Foundation for Education hopes to make Autumn & the Arts an annual event in addition to its pre-existing golf fundraiser and the Celebration of Education, both held annually in the springtime.
“One of our goals was to ignite passion for the arts in Imperial County and doing that through showcasing what kids can do,” said Queana Givens-Jarvis, curriculum coordinator for ICOE.
Southwest High School (SHS) SAVAPA (Southwest Academy for Visual and Performing Arts) students sang and the SHS Chamber Orchestra performed selections on-stage, showcasing their vocal and string instrument talents. Woodwork from the Central Union High School construction class was on display and up for auction, as well as varied paintings, drawings, and other artworks from students from around the Imperial Valley. The art projects were auctioned off to raise funds for student scholarships.
“What I was struck by with the response we got from the students is that they're hungry for an opportunity to showcase their talent,” Finnell said.
“It's only October so these students have only been in school for a few weeks after a pandemic and they're performing like that for us and have all this art for us,” Givens-Jarvis said. “It just speaks to the power that the arts give for resilience.”
“This is what an educator lives for, to see the fruits of their labor,” she said.
Students also relished the opportunity to showcase the fruits of their labors.
“Honestly, I don't want to say prideful, but I do take pride in my work when it comes to being able to present the culinary arts, and at the same time being able to perform in music, which I've had with me since the fifth grade,” said, Angeli Luna Castro, culinary arts student and SHS Chamber Orchestra cellist.
Castro, a senior at Southwest, said she didn’t quite know how to describe how she was feeling in the moment since it was the first time she held a public performance with the Chamber Orchestra due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the pandemic actually helped her discover her love of cooking while sheltering in place, a newfound love which continued through taking culinary classes.
Castro said the Autumn showcase also helps students connect with representatives of schools, districts, and the community.
“I think (the event) offers the students a very good connection between (our) art to be able to display it and (say), 'This is what we're actually doing' and 'Let me show you,'” she said.
“(Music is) definitely a passion for me … and this year I am able to play with the Chamber Orchestra and I feel very confident now in my playing,” Castro said.
“It felt very good to have a performance in order to showcase,” she said.