A fresh perspective

​The artwork of more than 20 CMS employees is on display at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center until Feb. 28. The employees are participating in the 18th Annual National Arts Program, which allows artists of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels to publicly exhibit their works.

The National Arts Program Foundation, Inc., sponsors the program in collaboration with the Arts & Science Council, the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Local professional artists and professionals judge the exhibit. Cash awards are given to participants for original, creative contributions in the field of fine arts and crafts. Similar programs sponsored by the National Arts Program Foundation take place in more than 200 cities across the United States each year. 

The teachers in the arts department at Mallard Creek High decided to participate this year. Their entries are diverse. Sydney Shaeffer, a visual arts teacher, entered a self-portrait and a tryptic. This is her second year in the show and she keeps the certificates from the foundation behind her desk to encourage her students.

“My kids try to keep up with me,” she said. “Sometimes they see a sketch I am doing and want to watch my process. It’s great for kids to see teachers actually doing artwork.”

Shaeffer said her active involvement in creating art encourages her students. “If I were a gym teacher never doing anything physical, or a creative writing teacher never writing, I wouldn’t be keeping up with my students,” she said. “Students can tell if you are passionate and actively pursuing a subject.”

Brooke Russell, also a Mallard Creek High art teacher, entered a watercolor landscape this year. It’s her first year participating. 

“I am catching up a little bit,” she said. “Last year, I had a baby so that was the only art I created. Art is my passion and after taking a year off, I really felt the need to get back out there. This was a great opportunity that was presented to us to get our work out there.”

Russell said her art helps her connect with her students.

“If I am not doing what they are doing, I am not going to understand their viewpoint as much,” she said. “Creating art constantly gives you a fresh perspective. You have creative conversations with your peers and students. The more ideas you generate, students benefit from that. Your students benefit from you having an open and creative mind.”

Not all the entrants are art teachers. Jenna Startwout is a fourth and fifth-grade math and science teacher at Hornets Nest Elementary. She entered two graphite renderings. 

“I don’t consider myself particularly creative,” she said. “All my art is realistic. It’s done as a mediation or therapy to calm down. I go home and pull out the pencil and I’m relaxed.”

Startwout uses her art as an icebreaker with her students. 

“It makes me a real person to them,” she said. “They helped me pick my pieces. They are rooting for me.”

Tabitha Warren, senior public information specialist for the city of Charlotte, serves on the National Arts Program committee and said seeing the talent of public employees is motivating. “We always have a bus driver or an accountant who has an incredible ability,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for these people who love art and who like to dabble in art to show their work and off and get recognized for it.”