Walking into Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School on Wednesday, May 23, one could easily mistake the crowded halls for any upscale art gallery opening, such was the quality of the student work. The plethora of visual art forms was enormous: Painting, drawing, sculpture, prints, video and computer art, collage, photography, and mixed-media work adorned the walls. One wing was devoted to the “Art of Conservation 2018,” Vineyard Conservation Society’s high school art competition. This year the students were to consider their habitat, both the physical resources and intangibles such as beauty and connection with family and community. Each entry was unique, and had its own particular take on the habitat theme.
Another contender was a plethora of ceramics, some functional and others purely abstract. You had to wade through the crowd of people lining up to buy particular pieces on sale at the beautiful display table.
“The pottery has gotten really good over the years. There’s all kinds, from beginners to some very advanced pieces,” parent Nancy Leport said. She and her friend Jennifer Christy, who laughingly refers to the two of them as unbiased parents, feels that the night isn’t publicized outside the school. Christy explains, “I would like others in the community who don’t have kids here to know about it, because it’s fantastic. It’s really amazing, the breadth of the work. People seem to know about the athletes and certainly the honor roll. This is just another lens of the high school a lot of people may not know about. I like that the night encompasses the musical department as well as the World Languages’ food buffet.”
Art teacher Brendan Coogan stressed how important the annual show is for graduating seniors.
“For the seniors, it’s a culmination of their work over the entire four years. The seniors curated their own exhibit that highlights the individual,” he said. Tiffany Shoquist, who teaches drawing and painting, stressed how student-centric the show is: “The student contribution to the show is massive. As an adult here, my role is really just supporting their decisionmaking and helping by asking questions. As a substitute teacher, it’s been really helpful for me to have so much student involvement,” Shoquist said.
Having worked up an appetite, the art galleries conveniently flowed into the World Languages’ food buffet. Rows of tables were filled to bursting with delicious dinner options that diners were piling high on their plates. “All the food is made by the kids, and they sign up for shifts to serve it too. All the funds raised go to a scholarship in memory of Nancy Orazem, who was a French and German teacher here for many years and died of cancer,” explained Spanish teacher Erin Slossberg. Justine DeOliveira, World Language department chair, explained that the scholarship goes to a senior who shows need and interest in following up with a language in their future. DeOliveira also explained that while World Language Night used to be based on students showing their language skills, they had joined forces with the arts and performing arts departments so that it is one big celebratory night.
Ninth graders Summer Riordan, who studies French, and Amber Cuthbert, who studies Portuguese, described the process each class went through in researching authentic recipes to make and then bringing in the food for the celebration. There were Spanish tapas (small savory dishes) and street food throughout the Latin American options, French crepes, and mostly traditional Brazilian desserts.
Sitting at one table in the cafe, Roy and Dorothy Gundersen, whose grandson’s pottery was on display, along with Chuck Robinson, whose son and daughter also go to the school, were intently polishing off the remains on their plates. Dorothy happily reported, “The food is delicious! Someone worked very hard and did a wonderful job. I don’t think I could say which was my favorite, there were so many good dishes.” Roy, however, easily identified the French éclair as his hands-down winner.
To finish off the night, you could stroll into the crowded coffee house for coffee, cookies, and live student music performances. The audience of students, adults, and siblings all sat with rapt attention, and broke out into thunderous applause after each performance.
For organizers, the goal is to grow the event, with even more of the community attending next year.