D.C. public school students bring art to Reagan National Airport

An airport terminal might seem like a funny place to display local students’ artwork. But a new art exhibit at The Reagan National Airport is showcasing work by D.C. public school students ranging in age from 3 to 18 years old.

“The theme this year is ‘Icons of Understanding,'” said Paula Sanderlin, D.C. public school’s art program director, who organized the first art exhibit five years ago. “Our focus this year has been student understanding of meaningful concepts and making meaning.

“I wanted the work that our students do, the achievements that they make, to be seen by the residents of Washington, the greater community, and the visitors to the nation’s capital,” Sanderlin said, adding that airport authorities are very happy with the exhibition because it gives the facility “a more human quality.”

The artwork reminds passersby to relax, said Shirley Nagelschmidt, the tour and education program’s coordinator for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “They stop, they pause, they look at the art. There are smiles on their faces. I think that’s a good sign,” she said. “It reduces stress. We want people to have a positive experience when they travel through the airport.”

Airport authorities also said they’ve received positive feedback from patrons. “It started out as a one-month exhibition and now, by popular demand, it’s two months, April and May,” Nagelschmidt said.

But authorities are not the only ones flattered by feedback. “I’ve been told that groups of passengers are seen looking and really focusing on some of the meaning and techniques of the works,” Sanderlin said. “Visitors who come … let me know that they like the work, they want to purchase work.”

The exhibition is good publicity for the District. “This is an opportunity for an international audience to see what D.C. public schools can do,” said Prenell Neely, a D.C. public school spokeswoman. “We tend to make the headlines for a few other reasons, but this is what it’s all about. With this kind of exhibit, you do see that for our community we do put children first.”

At a reception Friday evening, six of Pat Morrison’s students submitted eight displayed works of art. “I love the exhibition,” said Elizabeth Whitlow, between snapshots of her daughter Tina’s abstract art piece. “I am very proud of my daughter and all the other students. I think the artwork is beautiful.”

“I really don’t know what I’m drawing,” said Kaila Thompson, a third grader at Shepard Elementary School whose drawing, “Different Kinds of People,” represented an array of people with varying ethnicities. “When I finished, I kind of turned it this way and that way and I figured out what it is.”

“I know that she likes to draw a lot at home,” said Thompson’s mother, who was happy that her daughter’s creativity has been encouraged. “I was very excited that she was going to participate and that she was acknowledged today.”

The Thompsons know that the exhibition provides an incentive for students to work harder. Thompson’s brother is hoping to participate in next year’s exhibit.

“All my students do good work,” said Morrison, who teaches at Luke Moore Academy, which specializes in art. “Next year, I’m going to submit more.”

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