Michelle Fortier, Washington Middle School art teacher since 2014, is passionate about guiding her students through the experience of exhibiting art for public display.
Fortier graduated from Davis High School in 1988 and Yakima Valley College in 1990. She tells her students to this day about the close-knit tribe of teachers who shaped her senior year of high school, which would ultimately guide her to the eclectic profession of art education.
“It wasn’t necessarily about how good of an artist you were,” Fortier said. “It was about the adventurous learning along the way, the confidence gained from learning such skills, and the special relationships that are cultivated in a creative setting.”
Students from around the area will exhibit their best work this month at the 22nd annual Yakima Valley Middle Schools Art Exhibit at the Larson Gallery Workshop. The opening reception is from 2-7 p.m. Saturday, May 21.
The Larson Gallery will open the exhibit in its former building, now referred to as Larson Gallery Workshop, 1015 S. 16th Ave. The exhibit provides guests a rare opportunity to visit the iconic gallery space to view students’ works of art.
The exhibit is free and open to the public; it can be viewed from 3-7 p.m. Monday through next Friday, May 23-27.
The opening reception will feature live musical performances by Discovery Lab and Lewis & Clark students.
Founded by Leslie Pease, the show was originally called the Washington Middle School Art Invitational Art Exhibit and included over 18 middle schools spanning from White Swan to Kittitas County.
“Up until then, the only regional art exhibition opportunities for middle school level was the Central Washington State Fair,” Pease said. “It was essential that these young artists were provided every equal opportunity to present their artworks in a professional setting.”
The exhibit was held in the school’s gym on Ninth and Maple streets. The schools collaborated to host festive spring receptions complete with musical performances, high school student judges and award ceremonies.
Fortier approached Larson Gallery Director David Lynx in 2018 in the hopes of joining forces and working together to build a Youth Arts Program.
Fortier refers to Pease as her mentor and friend and strives to expand the community of art educators in the Yakima Valley, like Pease did so many years ago.
Schools and teachers featured at this year’s Yakima Valley Middle Schools Art Exhibit are Discovery Lab (art teacher Christi DeLozier), Franklin (Cheryl Payne), Lewis & Clark (Mandie Dolezal) and Wilson (Tina Marie Lasha). The team collaborates monthly and is overjoyed for their students to see this year’s collection in a gallery so deeply rooted in Yakima’s rich art history.
In response to COVID-19, as the teachers worked remotely, the five teachers launched the Virtual Art Exhibit, now in its third year. This provides a digital viewing experience to the greater community wherever they may be.
The Yakima Schools Foundation granted the program $4,100 to cover the costs of new display panels, promotional costs and exhibit materials ranging from framing supplies to food and beverages.
“We value that through art, students can build creative habits as they learn to generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work, convey meaning through presentation, interpret intent and deepen understanding by relating artistic ideas to societal, historical and cultural contexts to name a few,” said Priscilla Trevino, Yakima Schools Foundation executive director.
Currently they are leading the way in the STEAM community (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math) with their family engagement programs and have acquired over $30,000 in Washington State Arts Commission grants since 2018, recruiting local mural artists to work alongside their students, thanks to arts advocates and Washington Middle School Principal William Hilton and Vice Principal Nick Mifflin.
Jocelyn Albarenga, 12
Albarenga is a sixth-grader at Washington Middle School. She has a clay sunflower and watercolor painting in the Yakima Valley Middle Schools Art Exhibit.
During a recent doodling session in art class, Albarenga was drawing a “Coraline” themed piece of art. She also drew some flowers, inspired by the ones in the movie “Tangled.” Her eye for animation has her aspiring to be an animator or designer when she’s older.
Albarenga said she’s looking forward to having her art on display alongside her friends and fellow students.
“It’s really good because I’m just seeing people like art and it makes you, like, it makes you happy,” she said.
When not in art class or school, Albarenga likes listening to music. She’s an artist at heart, though: “Sometimes I hear music and next, I’m drawing,” she said.
Javier Valencia, 11
Valenica, a Washington Middle School sixth-grader, will have a self-portrait on display at the exhibit.
He used pieces of different colored construction paper to create his portrait. The piece took him three days in art class to finish.
Valencia feels proud to have some of his work on display in an art gallery and he enjoys his art class: “You get to make your own things and be unique.”
Elisia Sañchez, 14
Sañchez is an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School. Art class allows her to do several things.
“It’s just my time to be creative and just helps me with my anxiety and my stress and what I’m going through,” Sañchez said. “It’s been really hard for me recently, and I’m, like, really stressed right now. My art and this art class makes me feel more alive. I can breathe better, and it’s just amazing.”
Sañchez enjoys creating watercolor paintings, sketching and using pastels.
The Yakima Valley Middle Schools Art Exhibit makes Sañchez proud. She says her hard work on display is an achievement.
Sañchez likes to be outdoors or practicing martial arts. When she’s older, she wants to be a martial artist, an FBI agent or a lawyer.
• Sara Rae Shields contributed to this article.