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Unified effort, fundraiser keeps art program alive at Canvas of Highland Park

Apr 03, 2017 09:48AM ● Published by Travis Barton

The sixth grade performs a musical number at Highland Park Elementary on the school’s annual Arts Night. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

Gallery: Unified effort, fundraiser keeps art program alive at Canvas of Highland Park [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.co

A labyrinth of energy awaited those who attended the Highland Park Elementary 12th annual Arts Night fundraiser on March 17. Hundreds attended an event that raises thousands of dollars each year for the school’s arts programs.

“I never could’ve imagined something like this,” said Principal Debora Cluff in her second year at the school.

The night’s events included food, a Chick-Fil-A tent, a bake sale and craft tables associated with subjects like science, visual arts and music. Kids could make stamps with fruit and vegetables, straw rockets, harmonicas with Popsicle sticks or emoji magnets.

Main attractions included the silent auction with artistic items made by each classroom—hand prints making up the American flag or a jigsaw puzzle of the country. It also had plenty of community donated options such as tickets to theatres around the valley, restaurant and salon gift cards, headphones and portrait photography from a Riverton-based company.

“Everything is bigger, everything is better and it’s all because of what the community brings in. The silent auction blows my mind, it’s local businesses, 300-plus donations that are amazing,” said event coordinator and parent volunteer Sonal Kerr. She bid on different items herself, most importantly her sons’ classroom items.

“Everybody comes and has fun. There’s a little bit of something for everyone,” said Kerr, who has two kids at Highland Park. “It’s a fundraiser so we want to make money, but we also wanted it to be for everyone, you don’t have to have money to come and that was really important to us.”

The night also saw each grade perform musical numbers and culminated in a raffle where kids could win a themed basket made by each class. Themes included Star Wars, sports, summer, Nerf and BBQ grilling.

“It’s a fun experience to have the whole community take part,” said Kesle Keele, whose been coming the past four years.  “Every demographic comes out and participates. Kids, parents, grandparents. It’s a family affair so it’s exciting.”

Keele not only won two salon gift cards in the silent auction, but her sons won two theme baskets.

Prior to the basket raffle, Keele had jokingly talked about how some family will have two members win leading to incredulous reactions from the crowd. This year’s family turned out to be hers.

Kerr has coordinated the event for seven of the 12 years now. Prior to her involvement, the night typically raised around $18,000. In 2016, it raised $35,000. At press deadline, the final tally raised this year had yet to be finalized.

“What amazes me year after and year, and this year even more, is how much the community gets involved and comes together and supports our school,” Kerr said.

And the annual event started as a garage sale 13 years ago. Parent volunteer Nancy Meidell said a few parents learned there were plans to cut programs at the school so they banded together for a garage sale. The following year they did an arts night with a silent auction.

“It was really great and successful but my kids were really bored,” Meidell said. “When kids come to a fair, they want to go home with something. I wanted to come up with inexpensive enough activities that it was affordable and kids went home with something in their pocket.”

It’s been five years since Meidell had any children attending Highland Park, but she keeps coming back every year.

“I want to be a participating person in my community, not because I just have kids here, but because I’m a member of the community. I want to keep it going,” she said. Meidell added she originally planned to live here a year and that was 30 years ago. 

It is a unified effort to support and keep the arts at Highland Park. Funds from the event are used for the music teacher, Tanner Dance program from the University of Utah, the visual art teacher and art supplies among other things. Cluff said it funded an opera put on by the school, but maybe most importantly, it helps the kids moving forward.

The arts are integrated into the core curriculum which sees students dance and sing about whatever they’re learning.

Fifth-graders learn the preamble to the nation’s constitution through song and dance. Fourth-graders learn about Utah studies in the same way. Students learn geography by dancing as a mountain or a river.

Meidell said not everyone may be a visual or audio learner, but the different arts allow each student to learn at their pace.

“It gives everyone the opportunity to learn differently and excel at their own level,” she said.

Using the arts to teach the core curriculum is the most important thing. Kerr said it will help students “succeed as they move onto junior high, high school and college.”

In a time when parents are afraid of their arts programs being cut, just as they were concerned 13 years ago, Highland Park Arts Night is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen there.

“I think arts are as important as math or science or language arts. It inspires kids,” Keele said.

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