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City Hall turns into art gallery

February 7, 2012

WOONSOCKET — Some say there’s just no room for analytic cubism in local government, but don’t tell the kids at Beacon Charter School for the Arts.
Their abstract works of art, along with more traditional landscapes and self-portraits, have turned the corridors of City Hall into gallery space.
The latest joint venture between the city’s growing arts crowd and Mayor Leo T. Fontaine’s administration is designed to showcase the work of student artists from Beacon and give everyday folks who pass through City Hall an opportunity to sample the exceptional expertise of these emerging artists.
And if a guy on the way to public works for a trash permit happens to see a painting he likes so much he wants to buy it, well, that can be arranged, too.
“You wouldn’t believe the fine quality of the works these kids are creating,” says Tina Go, Beacon’s director of admissions. “We try to provide as many opportunities as possible for students to sell their works.”
Some Beacon student art has been sold in the past after being put on display at the Museum of Work and Culture, but even Principal Michael Skeldon was stunned by what happened when their wares went up for sale at the downtown school’s annual art festival in December. Many fine pieces were snapped up that day, but no artist had more success than a student named Carla Nunez.
“Her paintings were so good,” said Skeldon, “she sold out.”
This isn’t the first time Mayor Fontaine has invited young artists to use City Hall as gallery space to show off their goods to potential buyers. RiverzEdge Arts and students from the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical School have been doing it for some time – and making a few sales, officials say.
Student art from Beacon will now join a roster of exhibits from the three schools that rotate on a regular basis.
“It’s all part of the art gallery at City Hall,” said Economic Development Aide Linda Plays. “Mayor Fontaine is a huge supporter of the arts, Main Street is part of the arts and entertainment district and he’s a huge supporter of youth.”
Fontaine had been looking forward to participating in the official kickoff of the Beacon gallery program Tuesday, but he was sidelined with an illness, said Plays.
The Beacon exhibit includes art created by nine students, 17 works in a variety of styles, some of which directly reflect their course work, including – you guessed it – analytic cubism. For those who haven’t dipped their toes into the waters of art history lately, the style is a take on the visual inventions pioneered by the famed Picasso over a century ago.
“We thought this was a great opportunity for the students to display their work in a public building,” says Beacon Artistic Director Patricia Hawkridge.
One thing you won’t see on any of the canvasses is a price tag. School officials suggest that anyone interested in making a purchase reach out to Beacon. The prices won’t be decided until school officials discuss the terms with the artist first.
While some local arts programs keep a portion of the proceeds from the sales of student art, Beacon students are allowed to keep 100 percent of whatever their works sell for. Unlike private, non-profit enrichment programs for students, Beacon is funded by taxpayers, so it’s hard to justify recouping money from student sales to help run programs, said Skeldon.
“Beacon doesn’t need to take a cut,” he says.
Founded in 2003, Beacon Charter School for the Arts requires students to take the same core requirements in math, English and science as a traditional public school, but it functions more like a college because students must choose a concentration in visual arts, culinary arts or theater, says Skeldon. Generally, he says, students spend about 25 percent of their class time, or 75 minutes a day, in their area of concentration.
“For the most part, they do head off the arts-related colleges,” says Skeldon.
Several of the exhibiting student artists were on hand yesterday for the kickoff of the City Hall exhibit, including Mackenzie Eastman, Robert Coveney, Misty Rosenfield and Maxwell Silva.
The 17-year-old Coveney’s contributions to the exhibit include a chilly-looking scene of winter on the Blackstone River, an image he says was inspired by a photograph he took last year. Hawkridge said it’s difficult to put a price tag on student art, but given the cost of materials and a modest premium for Coveney’s creativity and time, a fair asking price for the riverscape might be $75.
Coveney seemed surprised by the off-the-cuff appraisal. “I was going to say $50 but $75 is alright,” he said.
Pocketing a little cash from exhibiting in a well-traveled public spot wouldn’t be so bad, but Coveney says the exposure is more important to him.
“It opens up opportunities for more people to know me as an artist,” says Coveney, who doesn’t necessarily aspire to become a professional painter. He says he’s also considering a career in the film arts or, perhaps, custom woodworking.
Like Coveney, money also seems to be the last thing Eastman hopes to gain from showing her work at City Hall, including her watercolor of a tree at sunset inspired by a scene from New Mexico. Also 17, Eastman says she’s thinking about a career in creating “graphic novels,” a growing literary genre in which pictures do the yeoman’s work of storytelling instead of words.
But Eastman says she wants to be known as someone with an eclectic set of creative skills.
“I’m not usually recognized for my painting,” she says. “Graphic noveling is what I’d like to do but I’d like to be able to show that I have other talents.”

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