By Marisa Valentino
Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, Guild Hall will, once again, host its Student Art Festival (SAF), an annual tradition that inspires and celebrates the artistic achievement and imagination of students in kindergarten through grade 12 from Bridgehampton to Montauk.
The festival stars Saturday, January 16, with a free public opening of the exhibition, followed by a series of weekend family workshops, and will conclude with an awards ceremony for high school students. This year’s theme is “Past-Present-Future” in honor of 2021 being Guild Hall’s 90th anniversary and the Village of East Hampton’s centennial.
Originally, explained Anthony Madonna, the Patti Kenner senior associate for learning and public engagement at Guild Hall, the theme of the festival was going to be the past or the future. Then the pandemic hit, along with nationwide civil and social unrest. This inspired Madonna to expand the theme to “Past-Present-Future,” encouraging participants and viewers to ask themselves, “How did we get here? How do we feel now? What are we doing now, and how can that affect who we will become?” Madonna said.
As a result, through Guild Hall’s new remote school artist-in-residence program, South Fork students were able to create an exhibition that reflects what has gone before, acknowledge where we are right now, and imagines a hopeful future down the road. This program has taken place over the past three months and has connected several artists with local public schools to create projects that will be displayed in the exhibition. All the artists’ methods and works coincide with the theme of this year’s festival. Using Zoom or Google Classroom, artists and students met and worked together to delve into various mediums and topics, including marine debris upsculpting and futuristic architecture.
“What I’m always amazed by is the amount of work, the amount of creativity that the students have here, and the incredible leadership of their teachers. Because without them, the work really wouldn’t be done,” Madonna said. “This year, I think people are going to be quite amazed that even through hybrid schedules, full virtual learning, in-person learning, distanced learning and not being able to share materials, students, teachers and Guild Hall really all worked together to make sure that art and creativity is a central focus in our schools.”
The exhibition will be open to the public Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. through February 21, and will conclude with a ceremony for high school students hosted by Guild Hall’s Teen Art Council. It will be available for viewing both in person at Guild Hall and on the website. In-person visitors must pre-register for a time slot to ensure social distancing and limit capacity. Masks will be required within the building.
The traditional opening ceremony of the festival will be replaced by a month-long series of family and children’s workshops. The series kicks off with the Loot Comics workshop, “Create Your Own Comic Book,” running via Zoom on Thursdays from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., from January 21 through February 18. During this hour-long weekly workshop, kids ages 8 to 12 will explore the art of comic books with Loot Comics’ “Professor Joe” Mann. Pulling inspiration from their own pasts and the genesis stories of famed superheroes and comics, children will create their own comic book with imaginative characters and whimsical futures.
“I really hope what everyone gains is realizing that stories can come from yourself and also you can have fun, it can be enjoyable,” Mann said. “It doesn’t have to be some highbrow thing that seems really difficult. It can just come from your own pure joy and from your own heart.
“I want to show kids that as long as what you’re doing makes you happy in the world of art, then it’s a beautiful piece of art because that’s all that matters.”
On the weekend of January 15, participants for “Create Your Own Comic Book” can pick up a kit of materials for this workshop at Guild Hall.
The series continues with “Stories and Crafts with the East Hampton Library” offered Mondays, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., January 25 through February 8, via Zoom. In each hour-long session, East Hampton librarian “Ms. Anna” Healy, will read a children’s book to kids ages 3 and up, followed by a hands-on craft related to the book. The weekend before each session, participants can pick up art supplies for this workshop at Guild Hall.
The theme of this year’s festival will be explored in this series. Each of the three sessions will focus on the past, present or future. Healy, an artist and educator with a passion for process-focused art projects, finds a work of art that corresponds to each time period, then chooses a children’s book and craft that connect to that work of art. Healy, who is new to the East End, has taught art classes for children and adults at the East Hampton Library and Golden Eagle.
“I want to see what the kids create based on the inspiration I provide because I don’t think any two projects ever end up exactly the same,” Healy said. “So it’s always fun to see what they come up with, and most of the time they come up with stuff better than I do.
“It’s interesting to see how they take it to so many different levels,” added Healy who, prior to bringing art and stories to families on the East End, taught in schools, libraries and cultural institutions in both Oklahoma and in the Chicago area.
Registration for the virtual exhibition, workshops and awards ceremony for high school students will be available at guildhall.org. Guild Hall is at 158 Main Street in East Hampton.