Down to an Art

Writer Amanda Christmann
Photographer Loralei Lazurek

In the early 19th century, Horace Mann launched the public school movement, advocating for, and eventually winning, educational opportunities for all Americans as universal right. Like many of his successors, Mann believed that education should be approached holistically, and include not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also fine arts.

Nearly two centuries later, some public schools are stuck with difficult choices about which programs to keep, and which to pare down or eliminate, and “extras” like music and fine arts sometimes end up on the chopping block.

At Diamond Canyon School, investment in fine arts and the dedication of fine arts teachers is paying off.

For the last 18 years, music teacher Caroline Kaupa has entered her students’ work into an international art and music drawing contest sponsored by Music K-8, a magazine issued by Plank Road Publishing that provides educational resources and activities for elementary music education.

“This contest takes place once a year and generally has between 15,000 and 20,000 entries from USA, Austria, Canada and Australia,” Kaupa says. “It gives young artists the opportunity to combine the visual arts with the musical arts to create amazing creative works.”

Many students have been honored with recognition throughout those years, but this year, eighth grader Gracie Milliken accomplished something extraordinary.

Gracie has entered the contest since she was in third grade. Every year, her work has earned her mentions. This year, however, Gracie did something no Arizona student has ever accomplished: Her drawing earned First Runner Up.

“What Gracie has accomplished is very rare. Having entered students in this contest for so long, I have observed what it takes to get published in the actual magazine, let alone First Runner Up. … Gracie has been published in the actual magazine twice now, and she has been published on the company’s web page every year since third grade.”

For Gracie, and countless other students, music and visual arts are so much more than just a class; they’re relatable in ways that go beyond basic logic.

“I like how art gives people the opportunity to convey their thoughts and feelings without words,” she says, adding that her grandmother, her uncle and her mom are also artistic.

Each year, the combination of music and art—which Kaupa affectionately calls “mart”—seems to inspire students to express themselves in impressively creative ways. In looking through the contest winners, it’s clear that many of the students are passionate about both. It’s also clear that they often have teachers who encourage them to explore that creativity.

“Teachers like Dawn Kirchner, Ms. Kaupa and Mrs. Moran have kept encouraging me throughout the years,” Gracie says. “Each and every one of them have motivated and inspired me to keep doing what I love.”

In fact, Gracie loves art so much that she plans to turn it into a career.

“When I grow up, I plan on starting a career that involves art, like being an animator or a tattooist,” she says. As she enters high school next fall at Boulder Creek, she’s likely to have plenty of opportunities to explore even more choices.

Beyond contests and accolades, there is something more for Kaupa in accomplishments like Gracie’s.

“I have been teaching general music, strings and conducting two very active choral programs for 18 years now,” she explains. “The importance of art education is in the very nature of creativity, and how it puts us in tune with our soul and allows us to express inner sound, space, aural and visual realms that could otherwise go unnoticed.

“The arts are a form of education that thus involves discovery, just as writing poetry and learning to use language creatively becomes a vehicle for self-expressing. The arts provide a foundation for young people that is proven to improve the quality of one’s very life.

“Having been a musician for as long as I can remember, and having a deep passion for music, the many vocal and violin teachers I have had throughout my life have provided me the knowledge base which has allowed me to continue in the fine arts to this day, and that kind of education holds power that extends far beyond the classroom walls.”

It’s that spirit of gratitude and appreciation that inspires fine arts teachers like Kaupa—and so many more educators—to help their students to learn, grow and achieve success in their endeavors, and in their lives.

Images Arizona congratulates Gracie Milliken on her accomplishment. We also thank the teachers who continue to encourage and guide students to become passionate and capable in whatever endeavors they choose.

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