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Art for the student's (fun) sake

Demand grows for Artists in the Schools as budgets pinch arts and music

Artist Jennifer Eufusia holds up a small log of clay and shows how to cut slits in it to form limbs. Upright, it can become the body of a human figure; bend it and it becomes an animal's body, she explains.

Starting with those techniques, Roosevelt Elementary School fifth-grader Jordan Miller shapes clay into an elaborate saber-toothed cat with bared fangs and angry spikes of fur along its back. Across the table, Kasey Banks makes a bear, which then eats a rat he made moments earlier, leaving the bear with the rat's clay ear stuck to its snout.

They're so creative when you give them the basics, Eufusia said.

Eufusia, who has degrees in art and teaching, is one of about 20 artists who go to local schools to share their skills with students through the Arts Council of Southern Oregon's Artists in the Schools residency program.

This month the program has put eight artists in elementary schools to provide kids with hands-on experience in clay sculpture, drawing, watercolor painting, roots music, papier mache mask-making, printmaking and folk dancing. Other participating artists teach theater, clowning, weaving and drumming.

— We've been so busy this year, said Eufusia, who coordinates the arts council's educational programs, but stepped into the classroom this year to ensure every interested school could work with an artist.

The program, which started in the early 1980s, now reaches about half of the elementary students in Jackson County, she said.

Demand for artists in the schools has grown as budget cuts have whittled away regular art and music programs, said Lyn Godsey, executive director of the arts council. The council also has worked to promote the program and raise money to help schools pay for it.

Two decades ago, schools had the money to pay for artists to conduct intensive workshops with students from one grade level. In the past 10 years, funds have increasingly come from parent organizations that ask artists to work with every student at the school, Godsey said.

This year, the council received a grant from US Bank to help pay for artists' visits to schools where many students come from low-income families. Another grant came from the Oregon Arts Commission to fund the program in rural schools, Godsey said.

We try to find as many resources as we can for these kids, Roosevelt Principal Anne Mitchell said, noting that the US Bank gift and federal funds paid for Eufusia's two week visit. Kids paid &

36;2 for supplies.

I never did this before, said Rina Bozeman, a fifth-grader who crafted a pudgy dog with a friendly mouse sitting on his head. It's really fun.

Pat Bucher, a first-grade teacher who coordinated Roosevelt's artist residency, said teachers integrate art into the curriculum by having kids illustrate stories they write and make decorations for classrooms and special events, but having a professional artist at school teaches them new techniques, too.

Like the way she showed them to make the legs, I didn't know that, Bucher said.

We're here for the students and the teachers, Eufusia said. They have to teach everything, but when I leave, all the teachers will feel more confident with clay.

Roosevelt fifth-grader Rina Bozeman created a dog sitting on a couch complete with television remote control and a mouse (the furry, wiggly-nosed kind) on its head during the Artists in the Schools program in her class Thursday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell