by DeeGee Lester
Director of Education, The Parthenon
The true joy of teaching in a school with a dynamic arts program, such as Nashville’s Father Ryan High School, is watching the arts take hold as young people tap into their passion and creativity, discover their unique voice, and express what they have to say to the world. Those on the outside of the artistic world look in with a combination of awe and skepticism, persistently pelting aspiring artists, musicians, actors, and dancers with the question: How can you make a living?
Father Ryan senior Hannah Vogt has a ready answer for the skeptics. “I say, art is incorporated into everything. In every area,” she is quick to point out, “people have to come up with the design.” She already recognizes that it’s the creative expression of ideas, the “story” that sets the brand, the product innovation that sets a company apart, and all of these are grounded in the arts.
Hannah recalls being interested in art “pretty much my whole life.” Over time and through the rigorous program at Father Ryan, she has gravitated toward painting and pastels and has moved toward development of her own style. “I used to see art as a competition measuring myself against others, but everyone has a different style and the real competition is the personal challenge—how to work within mediums, how well I’ve done, and how to keep improving.”
Her personal favorite piece is Folds, an assignment for the development of a more controlled work of art by picking a photo and zooming in for a specific area of focus in the development of a piece of art. She enjoyed the challenge of expressing the interesting interplay of light and shadow in the simple folds of a cloth draped over a statue.
Because she is a senior with classes in AP and Portfolio, each effort becomes a significant contribution as she prepares her portfolio for application to college boards. But she is keeping her options open as she explores opportunities at UTC, Sewanee, and Belmont.
Fine Arts instructor John Durand explains, “When a student leaves my class, even if they never take another art class, I want them to understand and appreciate the skills and thought process involved in creating a piece of art.”
Senior Everett Delaney echoes the lifelong love of art—“for as long as I can remember. It started as more of a hobby, drawing comics. By 6th grade, I really got into it and just kept going, picking art electives in high school. This year, I have more arts classes than actual classes.”
He recommends experimenting with various art forms to find one you like. His own interests range from comics to graphic novels. “I used to do digital and marker, but now I’m more into colored pencil.”
Opportunities such as Governor’s School likewise emboldened his artistic curiosity. “It was really fun to have a college experience, being around like-minded people and talking about art,” he says. “The best thing was probably being surrounded by other good artists, people who challenged you.”
Everett wants to pursue a career in either illustration or animation and is considering colleges such as Savannah College of Art and Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Columbia University.
“I can’t see my life without art. Not doing it makes me feel empty.”
Like their artist counterparts, performing arts students such as sophomore dancer Cara Orlich share a lifelong passion for their chosen pathways.
“I was the girl who would only pay attention to Friday night football games when the dance team performed,” she says. From dancing around the house at age 3, she progressed through tap and ballet to jazz and hip-hop at the Bellevue Dance Center to her dream position with the Father Ryan dance team and an expansion into musical theater.
Her growing list of credits at Father Ryan and with Franklin’s Act II Players includes productions such as Pippin, Grease, Rent, and an upcoming spring production of West Side Story.
“I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” says Cara, whose dream college would be NYU. “Father Ryan will point every student toward the path of success, and with the excellent education and guidance I am receiving, I know I will have everything I need to go down that path.”
When describing her artistic passion, junior Maggie Rodgers admits, “I’ve never really had one of those ah-ha moments. Musical theater has always been my path. The stage has always been the place for me to express myself, to find out how to bring characters to life, connect with others, and bring an audience joy!”
Cast in a number of productions, including the title role of Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, she recalls selection during her freshman year for the role of Jenny Hill in Big Fish as a dream come true and, she admits, a surprise. “Our teacher, Ms. [Kelli] McClendon, is wonderful about casting based solely on talent and the right match of actor and role.
As she thinks about college and the auditioning process required for top programs and a pathway to Broadway, Maggie explains, “I’m focusing with intensity, looking at what will make me look best to colleges and give me the tools to look good for auditions. I’ve just started this journey. They’re looking for confidence—not cockiness; professionalism and the ability to do the technical aspect; the ability to show depth of character in yourself as well as the role; and originality—how you can color a piece.”
Such self-motivation, intention, and self-fulfillment are the goals for students in Father Ryan’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts as explained by art teacher Mike Mitchell. “We work collaboratively to position students with the skills and resources to challenge them to become creative members on the local, regional, national, and international artistic ecosystem.”
Why Arts? – The Arts4Life Series
Featuring Nashville-Based Artist Omari Booker on November 7
Father Ryan’s second installment of the Why Arts? series, sponsored by the Visual and Performing Arts Department, will be held on November 7, 2017 and will feature Nashville-based artist Omari Booker.
Booker will talk about his life as an artist, why someone would choose this career path, and in his case, how art chose him. He will also dive into how, through art, he has been able to explore topics that are important to him and may be, for some, difficult to discuss.
Booker’s talk will commence at 6:30 p.m. This event is free, open to the public, and will be held at the Center for the Arts on Father Ryan’s campus.