Duval council celebrates the arts

Elaina Walcott, front, performs during Celebrate the Arts! at Duval Elementary Fine Arts Academy in Gainesville.

LEE FERINDEN/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:12 p.m.

Current and former students of Duval Elementary Fine Arts Academy provided proof that the arts builds confidence as evidenced by the artistic talent and poise displayed during the student-driven "Celebrate the Arts!" signature fundraiser of the Duval Community Arts Council.

Funds raised from the event have been earmarked for a new sound system at the school and instruments to form an orchestra.

The nearly 150 men, women and children attending the celebration Friday at Duval were treated to an art exhibit, music, dancing, a dramatic presentation and words of wisdom from keynote speaker Nona Jones, chairwoman of the Education Foundation of Alachua County. Niyin Smith and Jumahn Merricks, former Duval students, presided over the event with confidence and wit.

"I don't know of any other way I'd like to spend a Friday afternoon than with students and staff at Duval," said the Rev. Dr. Marie Herring, a member of the council and pastor of Dayspring Baptist Church, during her introduction of Jones, who spoke about the importance of arts education as a basic part of learning for all students.

Jones shared stories about her childhood and the benefits she derived from her involvement in the arts. She said a benefit of arts education is that it's inclusive and provides all children with an opportunity to experience success. She said success comes in many forms and a program that provides children with an opportunity to create something is a worthwhile investment.

"Our children deserve to have their entire self valued," Jones said. "For some children, the arts is the only reason they stay in school. Let's never tell them that reason is not worth your time."

Angie Terrell, piano teacher at Duval and the school liaison for the council, offered the opening remarks and recognized sponsors.

The entertainment featured students in the Duval arts academy, as well as local artists and former Duval students, including dancer Kevin Anderson and Isaiah Blount, who performed a dramatic presentation.

The Duval percussion ensemble and the color guard performed "Hey Hey Jam," the choir performed "Hippo In My Locker," and the dance ensemble performed a number from "The Wiz."

Piano selections were provided by Erneshia Pete, a Duval fourth-grader, and Caleb Woods, a sixth-grader at Mebane Middle School in Alachua, with violin selections by Jasmine Fleming, a sixth-grader at Howard Bishop Middle School, and Janiya Garrison, also a sixth-grader at Howard Bishop.

The musical finale featured the percussion ensemble, the color guard, the choir and dance ensemble performing an African number called "Si yahanba."

C'Javia Jones, a seventh-grader at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, and Brandon Hall, a ninth-grader at Professional Academies @ Loften High School, performed a musical duet to "Scene From Cinderella."

Donna Jones, principal at Duval, recognized performers, teachers, staff, students, parents, community members, government officials and sponsors for their contributions to Duval and its students.

"Can you feel the passion in the air," Jones said. "They (past students) got their start at Duval and are a great example to current students of what happens when you have a passion for something and you can give back to the community."

Jones recognized Leanetta McNealy, a member of the Alachua County School Board and former Duval principal, for being instrumental in establishing the school's fine arts academy.

"She is the lady that had the passion and the vision to start the fine arts program at Duval," Jones said.

Greetings were delivered by Cheryl Poe, chairwoman of the Friends of the Elementary Arts; Alfred Peoples, president of the Duval Community Arts Council; Eileen Roy, chairwoman of the Alachua County School Board, and city of Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe.

"Elementary arts, drama and music are essential," said Poe, who gave a brief history of the Friends of the Elementary Arts, formed in 2005 to provide support for fine arts programs in Alachua County elementary schools.

"Hollywood, here we come," said Peoples. "It's so good to see so many smiling faces, I hope it's an indication of enthusiasm and support."

Roy said the School Board is proud of the Duval Dragons. She said seeing alumni perform demonstrates the arts program at Duval gives students the confidence. "We see how arts gives them the confidence, the wings and enhanced self-esteem. When I come here, I feel happy and confident because the students are getting such a good education."

Lowe, who read a proclamation, said "the arts is one of the crucial things in our community," Lowe said. "We see it all starts here."

Terrell complimented past and present Duval arts students for performing at their best. "It was magical to see the students perform with grace, style and confidence," Terrell said. "The celebration was very successful and when we receive several promised donations from community organizations, we will reach our goal."

Perhaps, Virginia Hayes, daughter of the late Lottie V. McPherson, the first principal at Duval, summed up the evening in three words. "Awesome, wonderful, inspiring," she said.

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