While Canton Academy is known for its strong sports program and great student teacher ratio, the art program from elementary to high school is a hidden gem. “I can’t imagine a school without an art program,” artist Mark Millet high school art teacher at CA said.
“There are no mistakes in art,” Mrs. Lori likes to remind her students from day one. Beginning in 3K, all elementary students attend art with Mrs. Lori Lambert for an hour a week. They paint, free draw, use oil pastels, collage, watercolor, and make art from recycled material. This year, Mrs. Lori has added more 3D projects – making a fairy garden, wire sculpture, and building toy cars from found material. In her third year as elementary art teacher, Mrs. Lori sees the benefits of art in giving kids an outlet for self-expression. While she does give them parameters in projects, they have lots of freedom inside those. It’s a nice break from the academic classroom.
“My favorite project this year has been the fairy garden. Fourth graders had to design their garden and work on it when they came to me during the week. I would see them during the weeks we worked on the gardens, and they wanted to talk to me about them. It didn’t matter if it was during class, at lunch, in the hallways, or in town at the grocery store. They were so excited about creating them, and that made me excited,” said Mrs. Lori.
During the early spring, the elementary halls are filled with even more student artwork for the annual art competition. The kids love seeing their work hanging, as parents, friends and visitors to the school can see what Mrs. Lori’s kids have been up to. The work is judged and the top pieces from each category move on to the district and overall art competitions. CA always has a great showing at all of these competitions.
“I just like being creative,” said Gates Welch, CA fourth grader as she painted pottery in Mrs. Lori’s class. And the exposure to art doesn’t stop when students move to the upper school building.
Artist Mark Millet joined the CA faculty eight years ago teaching two classes of Art I. The popularity of his class grew, however, and soon he was teaching four classes a day and was able to add Art II.
Today, the Art II class is limited to just 6-7 promising students, and the students each have their own studio space on campus. Mr. Millet helps them find what area of art they are most interested in and lets them explore. This small group also takes an annual spring field trip to experience what Millet calls the “art of living.” In the past, the group has explored the Delta, but this year’s Art II field trip recently went south and played in some hidden waterfalls. “Before the van even stopped, the kids were trying to get out of the door. They were so excited!” said Millet.
“My favorite part of this year has been our trip to the waterfalls,” said junior Joseph McLean.
In his Art I and seventh and eighth grade art appreciation classes, Millet finds ways to explore the “art of living” around campus. “We’ve walked to the ponds nearby, drawn on the sidewalks, and sketched in the cotton field next to campus. There is lots of freedom to explore here, and I like that,” Millet said.
Why is art such an important part of education? “We spend lots of time in class using one side of our brains, but when students create something from nothing and are required to think creatively, it gets both sides working together for that ‘aha moment’. Plus, it’s just fun!” said Millet. “When students have created a piece of art, it makes them happy and can make others happy. There is real value in art. My seventh graders have no fear of art. I like to foster that, so that when they become juniors and seniors they still have that confidence and aren’t afraid to try new things.”
Besides being at CA, Millet has had his own studio in Ridgeland since 1992 and has original artwork hanging throughout the state and beyond. He has taken students in the past to see galleries and private collections where his art is displayed during the annual fall field trip for all of his high school students which includes a trip to lunch at Beatty Street Grocery for the hamburger eating contest.
Millet finishes each year with an arts week. It includes a week-long silent auction of students’ artwork where students keep the money raised teaching them valuable lessons about the art marketplace. At the end of the week, Millet puts together a show with student musical talent and short videos students have created throughout the year. It’s amazing for everyone to see what the students were able to create from nothing.
There is something important about the self-expression of creating something new. “Art will never be replaced by technology. It will always be valuable,” said Millet.