Smile Politely

40 North exhibit proves “Those Who Teach, Can”  and do make inspiring art

I love a good myth-buster—especially one that disrupts inaccurate and damaging notions about creativity, arts, and artists. 40 North’s latest art exhibit is all that and more. Now in its 8th year, “Those Who Teach, CAN” shatters the stereotype that art teachers are not real artists. Diverse in its range of media and strong in its showcase of skill and imagination, this exhibit of work by Champaign Unit 4 art teachers reminds us just how lucky we are to have this extraordinary group of artists in our community and in our classrooms. 

Featured artists listed alphabetically: Lucy Christianson, Carol-Lynn Comparetto, Josh Doniek, Melissa Farley, Scott Fernsberg, Stacey Gross, Rachel Kinney, Amy Johnson, Amy Lozar, Michael McLoughlin, John Odum, Emily Pawlicki, Shannon Percoco, Priscilla Putman, Ravyn Rodgers, Grant Thomas, and Enrika Stulpinaite-Maldonado.

In her opening toast, local artist and Centennial art teacher/Unit 4 K-12 visual arts coordinator Stacey Gross (pictured above, kneeling second from right) celebrated the group’s collaborative spirit inside the classroom and in the studio space.  She also shared how important this annual event was to her own creative process, giving her a real deadline and opportunity to get back to her art. 

If you have ever taught, or know someone who has, you know it is both a calling, and a lot of hard work. And if you are called to teach art, your calling is doubled.  While most of us mere humans struggle to find work-life balance, art teachers serve their students, their fellow teachers, and their own creative vision (which often gets put at the end of the list after juggling their day-to-day responsibilities.  Knowing all of this makes this exhibit that much more extraordinary and that much more important for everyone involved. 

The opening night crowd was filled with students getting perhaps their first glimpse at the artist inside their art teacher. Imagine finding out that your patient, enouraging art teacher makes kick-ass band posters, like these (made by Michael McLoughlin, who teaches at Dr. Howard elementary).

When I spoke with artist Shannon Percoco, who you may remember as one of the founding mothers of the Resist Art Show, she brought up the important point that teachers you can and do make art, walk a fine line when showing their work to their students.  They don’t want their own style or vision to inhibit (or lead) a student’s process.  Like many, she waits till the end of the semester to share her own work.

Yet it is important for students, parents, and community members to see their art teachers in all of the hyphenate glory. They are key players in maintaining the health and wellbeing of our local arts ecosystem.  In order for them to continue to inspire, they must remain inspired. In order for them to support the creative journeys of our children, they must themselves be supported in their journeys as teachers and as artists. Kudos to 40 North and the Unit 4 Arts Teachers for recognizing this need and creating an annual opportunity for it to be met. 

There is much to see and see more than once in this exhibit.  Fortunately, we have until May 28th to fully enjoy it. While opening night receptions have a unique energy and excitement, they are always conducive to a full appreciation of the work.  This is a very accessible and engaging exhibit, with work ranging from photography, graphite, pen & ink, acrylic, mixed media, ceramics, printmaking,

On my first walkthrough I found msyelf particularly drawn to pen & ink, graphite and printmaking pieces. While I was driven by my own personal tendency towards these media, these pieces were particularly compelling in style, execution, and in subject. (Series of three below by Amy Johnson, print below by Enrika Stulpinaite-Maldonado). I found these images continually drawing me in, and with Johnson’s series, wanting to know the stories behind those portraits). 

My most emotional moment came when experiencing these pieces by Lucy Christianson.  At a distance they seemed gently executed, sweet, almost nostaglic.  As I got closer, the words took my breath away.  Christianson created a window into the dark sides of childhood many of us are fortunate enough to never experience.  Knowing these images came from the hands and mind of a teacher, made me consider how much pain and suffering teachers see and experience and how important it is for them and their students to have a creative vehicle thorugh which they can express, understand, and perhaps transform these difficult emotions.

Enjoy additional images from “Those Who Teach, CAN” below.  And do make the time to see this exhibit.  There truly is something for everyone to enjoy. And as the weeks pass, let’s continue to support these gifted and generous artist-teachers by filling the 40 Point One | art space with red dots. 

Those Who Teach, CAN
40 Point One | art space
1300 S Neil St, Champaign
(Inside Consolidated Communications)
Through May 28th
Free and open to the public during business hours

Top image from 40 North Facebook page.  All additional images from Debra Domal. 

Arts Editor

Related Articles