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Revived Program Attracts Student Artists, Musicians

From imaginative paintings and sculptures to soothing songs and a silky sax solo, Union High and Westwood Middle school students recently shared their artistic talents at the third annual Westside Celebration of the Arts.

The evening featured student artwork that was for sale to the public, followed by musical performances in the auditorium. Supporting community partners included the Kent County Health Department and the West Side Community Coalition.

“This has been a great way for our school to showcase the talent we have,” said Rebecca Smith, a Union art teacher.

Senior Jainaracel Gonzalez said her drawing encourages people “to have faith and just be free, with nature and you”

The art and music program has been in a rebuilding mode in recent years, after having been moved to after-school “hubs” under former Superintendent Bernard Taylor, Smith said. That put the arts in conflict with sports and jobs for many students, but restoring them to the school day has helped revive student participation, she said.

“When they put it back in the schools, it’s been great,” Smith said. “It’s given the kids a chance to have something beside the core classes.”

Rebuilding With the Basics

The music program is also rebuilding, with increasing participation and more students committing to four years. Choirs from Westwood and Union sang under the direction of Christian Stallworth, while Linda Blakemore directed string ensembles and Jamie DeVoe directed bands from both schools.

Blakemore said some of her players just began their instruments in the last year or two, including senior cellists Anthony Warren and Jose Garcia. Jose, who also sings in choir and plays saxophone in the marching band, said he plans to major in and wants to become a composer.

Junior Luis Garcia says of creating art, “It relaxes me. It makes all the problems go away, basically”

DeVoe praised the benefits of arts programs, but said it takes devoted practice for students to excel.

“You don’t learn how to play like (saxophonist John) Coltrane in one year,” DeVoe said. “You don’t go from ‘Hot Cross Buns’ to ‘Take Five,’” the iconic Dave Brubeck Quartet tune.

Senior Kmari Gunter showed what hard work can accomplish when he played the Brubeck classic on alto sax and got a rousing ovation. He said DeVoe introduced him to the tune as a freshman.

“I kept studying it and studying it and studying it, then I started studying other saxophone players such as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins,” said Kmari, who has cut a CD and wants to play professionally. “Since I love the music, I just want to play for a nice-size audience. I just want to make the audience feel good.”

Union students may choose from several art classes, including AP art, sculpture and ceramics, and digital media
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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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