With state funding for the arts on the decline, the oil pastels and colored inks that decorate Schmick’s classroom are a rare find in Alabama. Local school systems provide funding for arts education, but tight budgets often limit school art departments to teaching drawing or art history classes.
To ensure that Wellborn High School’s budding artists will have the supplies they need, the Oxford Starbucks hosts an annual auction to benefit the school’s art department. This year, the seventh annual auction will be held Monday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with registration for bidders beginning at 5 p.m. The money raised will provide supplies for next year’s art students.
“It makes a huge difference in the type of program we can offer,” Schmick said over the buzz of her classroom. “Without Starbucks, we would be an art history and drawing class. With Starbucks, we are a full-fledged art department.”
The auction boasts pieces donated by Wellborn students, Jacksonville State University art majors, Starbucks partners and even customers. Starbucks store manager Matt Gregg said prices range from $10 to $100, depending on what people are willing to pay.
“It’s amazing how people will give if they have an opportunity,” Schmick said.
Last year, Gregg said the auction raised more than $1,200 for Wellborn High’s art program. Schmick said the event is the program’s main source of funding.
This year, art lovers can find watercolor and ceramic pieces, acrylic paintings, still photographs and repurposed furniture created by Schmick’s students. Some of the work, like an acrylic painting of an abstract zebra and a set of colorful ceramic measuring cups, can be found on the class blog, www.whsartclass.blogspot.com.
“The kids want to give their best work,” Schmick said, adding that 58 of her students have donated pieces to the auction. Some have even donated multiple works.
Local artists also play a role in the auction. Photographer Krista Waugh has donated a variety of photos, from country scenes and flowers to old cars and fountains.
Diana Green, the arts in education program manager for Alabama State Council on the Arts, said the Alabama State Department of Education will not provide funding for the arts in the coming school year. She also cited the Alabama Accountability Act as a new challenge for money in public schools.
“We may have an even harder time with arts in schools,” she said. “But we’ll have to wait and see.”
Green added that the State Legislature granted the Arts Council funding. The council has about $250,000 to grant out to schools across the state for the coming school year. Green said this amount is not large enough to provide art teacher salaries, but that it can help with special programs, bringing in teaching artists and other short-term projects.
Green said arts education faces more obstacles besides a lack of funding. One of the biggest issues in schools is that students do not think the arts are important or relevant, she said. Her opinion, however, is the complete opposite.
“I think the biggest thing the arts provides is relevance,” she said. “Everything that’s you goes into your art … Math and science relate to the art form, which is also the student.”
Green added that the arts also relate to the principles of business. Art students learn teamwork and collaboration, as well as how to find multiple solutions to a problem.
“An arts education really fits in well with developing careers in Alabama,” Green said.
With funding for art programs increasingly more difficult to find, Schmick said she is thankful for the help of Starbucks and the surrounding community.
“It brings tears to my eyes that they go out of their way to make it happen each year,” she said. “I can’t express how blessed I feel.”