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The Moss Arts Center’s recurring Young Artists exhibition program has traditionally featured finished art works from art classes in schools in Southwest Virginia, including Montgomery County Public Schools and Community High School in Roanoke. However, after Moss Arts Center Exhibition Program Manager and YA program coordinator Meggin Hicklin moved to Pembroke in 2015 and learned of the challenges facing art education in the area, the program was changed. For the 2016 iteration of Young Artists, the program focus would shift from the exhibition of work by art students to the creation of works with students without access to art education. With help from Giles County Public Schools art teacher Amber Nelson and area artists (including Tacie Jones from LoCo Arts), Hicklin offered a series of workshops, called “art breaks,” for students in fourth through seventh grades in Giles County: students who currently do not have art class in school.

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Workshops were held over the course of three weeks at each of the county’s three elementary/middle schools–Eastern, Macy McClaugherty, and Narrows–both during and after school hours. The purpose was for students to unleash their creativity and capture the stunning landscapes of Giles County using a variety of techniques. The exhibition was named “Home,” intended to focus on celebrating our natural and cultural surroundings. Students participated in workshops, including work in photography, making sculptures from materials gathered from the land, painting, and drawing. The final projects from the workshops were featured in a 7-week exhibition at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. The Moss Arts Center provided all supplies and materials for the project.

While a simple “pilot” of this model, the Giles County YA project was successful and has called attention to the issue of the lack of art education in our rural school systems. The Moss Arts Center is currently working to create a sustainable and scaleable in-school workshop program in Giles and other counties (Floyd, Pulaski, etc.) in which students may go years without an art class. This developing program aims to rely primarily on local artists to provide instruction and activities during the school day, with initial support from the MAC and external grants. For more information, contact: Meggin Hicklin, megh79@vt.edu.

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