arts in schools

Marking a year, marking a change

As Sitka Center for Art and Ecology assumes stewardship of an arts-literacy program, its first lesson brings a Native American tradition to elementary students

When the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology offers its first art lesson for the Community Arts Project this month, it will tap into a centuries-old Native American tradition, one that will call on families to gather, reflect, and maybe even begin a new tradition of their own. 

In Native American culture, it was known as the “winter count,” a tradition practiced by certain communities of the northern Great Plains, said Nicola Harrison, Sitka general manager and former executive director for Community Arts Project (CAP).

Every year, elders would gather to talk about events of the passing year – measured from the first snowfall of the year to the next year’s first snowfall. The elders chose one important event and named the year for it. The person known as the “keeper” painted a pictograph on a buffalo hide, paper, or cloth to commemorate the event. The keeper was also tasked with storytelling and ensuring the winter count was passed down to subsequent  generations.

Battiste Good (Sicangu Larkota) (ca. 1821-1894) kept a winter count that was unusual in that it contained more than 500 years of Lakota History. Its reference to the year 1834, “the year the stars fell,” commemorates the November 1833 Leonid meteor shower with an image of a tipi covered in stars. Photo courtesy: U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Arts and Crafts Board
Battiste Good (Sicangu Larkota) (ca. 1821-1894) kept a winter count that was unusual in that it contained more than 500 years of Lakota history. Its reference to the year 1834, “the year the stars fell,” commemorates the November 1833 Leonid meteor shower with an image of a tipi covered in stars. Photo courtesy: U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Arts and Crafts Board

This month, Sitka will reach out to some 300 students in the Nestucca Valley Elementary and Garibaldi Grade schools in its new role since taking on oversight, operating, and fundraising responsibilities for CAP this fall.   

“The kids in the community need to express themselves now more than ever and have that joy in their daily routine,” Harrison said. She will make a classroom presentation via Zoom, followed by a discussion to “share ideas and talk about events we want to share and how we would symbolize with imagery and not use words,” she said.


THE ART OF LEARNING: An occasional series


Students will have access to a prerecorded demonstration they can watch with their families on how to do the project. Instead of sharing art supplies at school, Harrison said, Sitka will purchase and deliver individual supplies that the students can keep.

In traditional Native American culture, a winter count might record disease, war, disaster, or natural phenomena, such as the widely depicted Leonid meteor storm of 1833.

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Helping the bands play on

The Music is Instrumental program pays for mentors, online instruction, choir – even valve oil – to keep music education alive in Lincoln County schools

When students in Lincoln City report for band practice, they frequently find themselves under the guidance of what might seem some unlikely tutors.

There’s G.W. “Sandy” Schaefer, a professor emeritus of music from the Nebraska State College System, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and California State University Fresno. Also, Forrest Fisher, former music director for the Lake Oswego School District and member of the Lincoln Pops Orchestra. And Greg Burton, a former bassist with the Oregon and San Diego symphonies and soloist at Symphonisches Orchester Berlin.

Not a bad line-up for a small coastal town. 

Students can thank the nonprofit Music is Instrumental for providing funds to pay for the “expert music technicians” — composed largely of retirees and grad students — who function as mentors to about 340 young musicians.  The nonprofit, in turn, can thank grant programs offered through the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


“Music has become so important for these kids,” said Mark Sanders, director of the Music is Instrumental board. “Some of these kids don’t belong to groups; they are not necessarily popular; they may have some sort of impairment. Music has enabled these kids to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. Kids involved with music excelled in their testing scores, came to school more often. They became part of a group, so that enhanced their self-esteem.”

Zac Will, a junior at Taft 7-12, plays with the Taft Jazz Band and says having the expert music technicians available “opens up opportunities for everybody.” Photo courtesy: Music Is Instrumental
Zac Will, a junior at Taft 7-12, plays with the Taft Jazz Band and says having the expert music technicians available “opens up opportunities for everybody.” Photo courtesy: Music Is Instrumental

The program that would become Music is Instrumental got its start in 2014 with a 3-year grant through the Oregon Community Foundation aimed at bringing music education back into Lincoln City schools. Organizers bought sheet music and instruments and created a library where students could check out instruments.

Another grant permitted the group to continue two more years, Sanders said. “With that project ending, we realized how many lives we’d changed through the five years we were going. Five of us decided we can’t let music go away from our schools again.”

So, in 2018, the nonprofit Music is Instrumental was born and that year earned a grant for $1,300 from the Mark Sponenburgh Memorial Trust, also administered through the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition. The grant provided an important cornerstone for the future of the foundation, paying the salaries of the music technicians. Another grant through the cultural coalition provided funding for the choir program.

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