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Celebration of the Arts makes long-awaited return

Remi Jones points out her drawing to her father, Kyle, and siblings Bailey and Lennon, during Vicksburg Community Schools “Celebration of the Arts” April 20 at Vicksburg High School.

By Jef Rietsma

For the first time since 2019, Vicksburg Community Schools showcased its full arsenal of fine arts during an evening-long open house last month.

The April 20 event at Vicksburg High School featured a buffet of everything related to the district’s cultural offerings.

The 2023 “Celebration of the Arts” provided music, dance, singing and visual arts.

Dusty Morris, chairman of the district’s fine arts, said Celebration of the Arts started in 2011 and was staged every other year through 2019. He said the concept originated rather spontaneously: Director of bands Ben Rosier raised the idea during a department meeting more than a decade ago.

“There’s a lot going on here at Vicksburg and Ben asked aloud what could we do to show the public all the things we have to offer,” Morris said. “Vicksburg is a Class B school and for a district that’s not huge, it’s pretty impressive how many different programs we have here.”

Morris said for at least the 17 years he’s been with the district it has shown time and again its unwavering support of the fine arts.

The April event featured talent from all grades in many areas. For example, artwork from the district’s five buildings was on display in the high school. Meanwhile, a portion of the event featured fourth- and fifth-grade choir members and musicians in the district’s string program, which also features fourth and fifth grades.

It also included the middle school band, both high school jazz bands, a number of high school concert bands, and several different choirs from Vicksburg’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Morris said the evening was structured so that events were staggered for maximum viewership. For example, a dance recital started at 5:30. Half an hour later, a student film festival was presented. A district-wide art show was available to view between 5:30 and 7, and the evening concluded with bands and choirs starting at 7 p.m. in the school gymnasium.

Morris said Celebration of the Arts also provides parents the chance to see components of the fine arts they might not otherwise take the time to witness.

“So, the parents of a fourth grader probably won’t attend a high school band concert, for example, and vice-versa,” he said. “If they come here tonight, they’ll have the opportunity to witness something they might not otherwise see.”

Patty Heintzelman, choir teacher at Tobey and Indian Lake elementaries, said she was excited to welcome back Celebration of the Arts. The program’s choral finale, Beethoven’s triumphant “Ode To Joy,” was intentionally chosen as a celebration to mark the return of such a beloved and popular community event.

She said planning a performance of such magnitude required fine arts teachers to work together with the intent of a seamless transition when elementary, middle school and high school students combined for the closing piece.

Kyle Jones, father of Sunset Lake kindergartener Remi Jones, said his daughter was thrilled to learn her artwork – a picture of her dog, Boomer – was chosen to be featured in the art showcase.

The Celebration “is the first for us so it’s been really nice coming into the high school and seeing all that there is to see,” he said. “Remi has been talking about this ever since I got a message from school that her picture was chosen and, I have to say, I think it’s real important that kids learn from a young age how important the fine arts are.”

Megan Oswalt, Sunset Lake art teacher, said she chose between 40 to 50 pieces of artwork from BK through fifth grade to feature during the program. Oswalt conceded it was difficult to limit the number of pieces to fewer than 50.

Meanwhile, dance studio instructors Dawn Simpson and RJ Robertson-Degraaf said they were happy that students were able to share what they’ve learned through various dance programs this year.

“What thrills me the most is the opportunity this provided to keep culture and the arts front and center,” Simpson said, noting the district’s dance program includes tap, jazz, hip-hop, gymnastics and ballet. “Tonight, we showcased hula and Tahitian dances, and a few hip-hop numbers.”

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