Magical chairs

Artists makeover school chairs for benefit auction

Artist Sue Johnson, one of the founding members of Friends of Alachua County Public Schools Elementary Arts Program, arranges old chairs from Lincoln Middle School that have been painted by local artists to be auctioned off to benefit public schools' art and music programs, on display at the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center in Gainesville. There are more than 25 artistically designed chairs in the auction.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 27, 2012 at 1:41 p.m.

Ande Lister normally paints on canvas. But for one special project, the artist's medium of choice is “school chair.”


If you go

What: Musical Chairs Project, to benefit Alachua County Public Schools art and music programs
When: 7 to 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center, 716 N. Main St.
Cost: Free admission
Information: 505-5062 or

Lister's work is one of 27 hand-decorated chairs featured in the third annual Musical Chairs Project fundraiser on Friday.

Organized by the Friends of Alachua County Public Schools Elementary Arts Program, the fundraiser will auction off the chairs at the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center.

All proceeds benefit the group, which seeks to enhance music and art education in Alachua County public schools.

Bids start at $125, said Sue Johnson, one of the program's founding members.

“The night will be like a game of musical chairs,” she said. “You walk around those chairs, and suddenly one gets snapped up and bid on, just like one would be taken away in a game.”

The chairs, from Lincoln Middle School, were donated to the group when the school upgraded to newer seating.

Johnson distributed the chairs to local artists in October. They've used the past five months to transform the chairs from simple, wooden furniture into one-of-a-kind works of art.

Lister, a former school art teacher, painted her chair school bus yellow. She used the back of the chair as an easel to hang a canvas that features the letters of the alphabet. She calls her piece “Sit A Spell ... It's Elementary.”

“I wanted the chair to express what it was in its former life,” she said.

Peter Senesac took the idea of musical chairs literally.

The painter and jewelry maker painted his chair bronze and used the “guts” of musical greeting cards to make the chair play music.

Ten buttons line the chair, and each one plays a different melody when pressed, he said.

“I love the idea of this project,” he said. “We're all starting with the same basic structure, but it's amazing how unique each one becomes.”

“Plus,” he added, “What artist doesn't want to support arts education?”

Arts education has been a life-long passion for Johnson. She began working as an art teacher at Glen Springs Elementary School in 1985. At that time, the school district had only nine art teachers to serve its 18 schools, she said.

Over the next two decades, the district worked to increase art and music education at the elementary level. But in 2008, facing a budget crisis, the school board was forced to cut arts education in half, Johnson said.

“It was like we were back at square one,” she said. “All that progress and suddenly we were back to one art teacher for every two schools.”

That's when Johnson and other local advocates created the Friends of Alachua County Public Schools Elementary Arts Programs fund.

The group has been supporting arts programs in public schools ever since. For the 2011-2012 school year, the arts program gave $5,000 in grant money to the district to provide transportation for 5th grade students to attend orchestral concerts in Gainesville. For the next academic year, the arts program will provide $5,000 to transport students to the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art.

These programs are meant to inspire students and enhance the arts education they receive in the classroom, Johnson said.

To Johnson, art and music education is about more than painting pictures and making pretty music. Art, she said, helps students learn life lessons that they can use in and outside the classroom.

“When you're trying to mix colors or trying to figure out how to play an instrument, you're problem solving,” she said.

Students can also learn patience, communication and critical thinking from art and music, she said.

“It's not so much about what you're making or what song you're playing,” she said. “It's more about the creative process and the skills you learn along the way.”

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