March is National Youth Art Month, and in the Central Coast town of Cambria, a month-long show at the historic Old Grammar School is bucking the trend of art disappearing from public schools.
The Old Cambria Grammar School building sits halfway between the East and West villages on Main Street. It was built in 1936 by a contractor from Oakland who was supervising construction at Hearst Castle. Generations of students were taught there, until a new, larger school was built elsewhere in Cambria in 2005.
Coast Unified School District still owns the old building, but the hallways are used as a gallery space by Cambria’s Allied Arts Association as the Cambria Center for the Arts. And in March, the old school is once again filled with the art of the local children.
Suzette Morrow teaches art at Cambria's middle and high schools.
"For those of us who know what the building was used for and what it was like when the children were in it...it is really like a nostalgic homecoming when March happens and we have the Youth Art Month show," Morrow said.
Since 2006, Cambria’s Allied Arts Association has had a 'use agreement' with Coast Unified School District. Along with the hallway gallery, they hold workshops, classes and theater productions in the Old Grammar School. The mission of Allied Arts, a non-profit organization, is to provide a vibrant community center in the heart of Cambria for all artistic endeavors.
"It’s such a beautiful building and the architecture and the space available is amazing, so we are really grateful that the Allied Arts works with us to allow the students to have the Youth Art Show for a whole month in March, and they are kind enough to clear out all their grown up work and let us take it over with k-12 artwork from kids in our community," Morrow said.
There are Youth Art Month shows all over the United States, sponsored by Sargent art supplies. The Cambria show is the only local one, and most of the roughly 600 students in Cambria participate. Allied Arts members usually do the judging. The winners then compete statewide, and California’s winners compete nationally.
Morrow said this art show - and the Friday night opening reception - is a big deal for the students, especially those at the middle school.
"And the kids there can tell you exactly what they put in the art show, every year, where it was at in the building, who came, what cookies we had, they’ll talk about everything about it from all the years we’ve done it," Morrow said.
The opening reception is Friday, March 2 at 5:30 p.m., and the art will be on display at the Old Grammar School each weekend through March 25, 2018.
Here are a few students at Coast Union High School, describing the works they are submitting for the show:
"This piece has the equation for photosynthesis in it, and I integrated that with a lot of leaves and little people that are pulling the equation down back to the earth to show our destruction of the environment."
"I have ADHD, I’ve grown up with it, so the issue is how to live with it at its worst. It’s all watercolor and the figure looks like it is focusing on it’s head, with the red birds flying out of it to symbolize like lost control of thoughts, like why can't I control my thoughts, they’re flying around."
"At first I thought I was going to focus on distortion, so this is a portrait of a guy who is literally distorting his face with his hands. I made it with a background of ink and watercolor."
Public school funding for the arts has been reduced over the years, and art teacher Morrow says she feels lucky that Cambria schools get support from the local community.
"Back in the back right now are some things that were donated by an artist in the community that just brings them to the office and says, 'here are some things we thought you could use here at the school' and those things are always so welcome," Morrow said. "We have awesome paper we’d never be able to afford, brushes that people bring in. We get a lot of artists that help us out because we are in an art community."
The Old Grammar School on Cambria's Main Street, which for decades held echoes of laughter and walls hung with backpacks, is once again home to the artwork of children. Cambria is one of San Luis Obispo County’s smallest communities, but its support of youth art is big.
The Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.