State of the Art

Meredith Johnson and Sarah Hirsch, writers

Culture. Language. History. Students and teachers from the BVNW art department experienced these things and more on June 6, when they embarked on their trip to Italy and Greece. According to art teacher Christine LaValley, the experience opened students’ minds to new cultures and promoted growth in their individual understanding of art.

“Being able to experience this first hand is not something you get to do every day,” LaValley said. “It is the experience of a lifetime.”

For 13 days, the students from the art department embarked on tours of Italian cities, including: Rome, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii; in addition to the Greek cities of Delphi, Athens and a cruise of the Greek Islands of Mykonos, Patmos, Santorini and Crete.  Art teachers LaValley, Melanie Mikel and Cynthia Sutton served as chaperones for the group.  The students learned about the trip via class announcements that were made in all art classes, and then selected personally by the art teachers.  Additionally, the tours were offered by Education First (EF) educational tours, which the art department has used in six previous excursions to Italy and Greece.
“I think [the trip] would benefit all students,” LaValley said.  “The opportunity to see another culture and experience new and exciting things, particularly for art students, being able to view famous architecture and art works they have only seen in books.”
However, with the recent rioting in Greece, concerns as to the safety of the trip arose.  In the past year, Greece announced its bankruptcy, and thus erupted violent protests by the Greek people against the current economic situation.  Many of these protests occurred in Athens, the capital, and also one of the destinations that the art department traveled to.

“[EF tours] have not [expressed concern about the riots],”  LaValley said.  “EF has representatives in the area that were constantly looking at the situation and keeping us informed.  They have been sending groups to Greece consistently with no problems. I feel comfortable with them and trust that they would not take us into any dangerous situations.  If there were problems, our tour would have been changed to work around it.”

Similarly, parents of students participating in the art trip did not seem concerned either.  Junior Lily Timberlake’s mom, Maria Timberlake, said the situation in Greece is not any more dangerous than some places in Kansas City.

“Bad things can happen anywhere, and I don’t want to be close-minded to opportunities that probably are no more dangerous than some of the things you could do right here in Kansas City,”  Maria said. “So, no I’m not really worried at all about her safety.”

As it turned out, the group didn’t have any encounters with danger.While in Athens, there were quite a few riots going on. According to junior Madi Elpers,  a few of the members of her group saw picketers, but nothing was too rowdy.

“The only time we felt a little, sketchy, you could say, was on the night ferry to Greece from Italy,” Elpers said. “We were playing cards in this cafeteria area and we would just get stared at by the men [who took the night ferry].  I think all the girls felt a little weird.”

The students got to experience the usual tourist things as well as go beyond the standard and enrich themselves in the cultures of Italy and Greece. According to Elpers, it was easy to imagine the places she explored filled with people thousands of years ago.

“There’s a big difference between being there and reading about it in a history book,” Timberlake said. “We actually touched something that was 3,000 years old.  It’s going to sound weird, but there are, like, vibes there.”

Maria also said the trip is an impactful experience by the way it cultivates bonds between fellow students and teaches important virtues.  According to Maria, she can relate to the experiences Timberlake had because she also participated in a school sponsored trip to Europe when she was in high school.

“The trip I think within itself is a life-changing experience and I think it changes the filter through which all those kids see the world, and it changes every experience they have there on out,”  Maria said.   “To share it with people who recognize what a special opportunity it is, I think it really creates a special bond that will carry forward for years because you are doing something new and different and exciting.  You are away from home, you are dependent on each other, and it is a learning and growing experience in terms of personal responsibility and your accountability to each other as a group.”

According to Timberlake, it was easy to bond with the other students because there was less pressure and they were outside of school. One way that Timberlake and Elpers grew in their relationships with one another was when they came into contact with street vendors outside the Vatican.

“When we left the Vatican, we got some time that we could shop a little bit.  All the street vendors set up their stuff,” Elpers said. “We learned that they say a price and you say, ‘too much’, and you walk away, then they chase after you because they want to sell you their stuff.  They may hesitate, but they’ll eventually give in.”

The recent art department trip especially explored fundamentals of Western culture and enabled students to understand historical events as well as current occurrences in a different context, Maria said.  So much so, Maria said Timberlake will likely be encouraged to expand her desire to travel, which may lead to a study abroad program in college.

“I just think it is a very eye-opening experience and it allows you to see even everyday things in a different perspective and as an artist you have to be very observant and I just think this is an eye opening experience that enhances her ability to see things that we see every day in a different light,”  Maria said.

The art department trip will most likely affect the students by encouraging them to pursue other travel opportunities, LaValley said.  During the tours, LaValley said the students  expand their conception of culture and history in a way that permanently alters their understanding of other cultures.

“Students in past have been so affected they have chosen to study overseas during college or spend more time in areas we visited,”  LaValley said.  “I think it changes their lives quite a bit.  They may not realize it at first, but it stays with them.”