SMHS program helps students learn business side of visual arts
By Robyn Cross
Members of the public view artwork created by St. Mary’s High School students that was on display at UCCS Downtown. (Photo by Al Paglia)
COLORADO SPRINGS. “I will have art in my life forever.” With a smile, St. Mary’s Fine Arts Department Chair Rosario Weston shares this statement made by a student with no prior art experience at St. Mary’s.
Awareness of Weston’s program and her joyful teaching style is getting out. As important as her effective teaching is her positive example. “One of my biggest expectations of myself is to be a good role model,” says Weston.
Two years ago, Weston tackled an art program that needed some attention after teacher turnover and the impact of COVID lockdowns.
The numbers show she has succeeded. Starting as a part-time teacher who inherited a program with a handful of students, the program turned around in her first year when 40 students signed up. The current year saw even more interest with 66 students and two full-time teachers, all of whom are invested in the “beauty” component of “truth, goodness, beauty.”
The purpose of the fine arts program extends beyond superficial beauty. Weston invites the students see their art contribute to something bigger than themselves. In their art, she asks them to be, “generous, patient, visionary.”
That generous and patient vision has a rhythm synchronized to the school calendar.
In the fall semester, the focus of the program is internal. An example of this is the students’ collaboration on the painting of, or more properly “writing” of, religious icons for display in the school.
As the fall semester unfolds, the program shifts to a public focus. In recent years, the students have hand-produced hundreds of Thanksgiving cards for St. Mary’s families and benefactors. This special “touch” on the school family launches a more external focus for the program in the spring.
This spring, St. Mary’s students loaned their art to the Penrose Library as part of the Pikes Peak Library Teen Art Contest.
“We had so much great feedback and comments from the patrons about how much they loved the art,” said Penrose librarian Lauren Charier.
St. Mary’s sophomore Ryleigh Stahoviak later brought home first prize for her painting in the library’s citywide art competition.
Weston also reached out to the Pikes Peak Art Council, of which she is a member, and asked about the possibility of displaying a few pieces of student artwork.
A council representative asked Weston if her students would be interested in filling the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Downtown community space. At first, the prospect of filling such a large area in a limited timeframe was daunting, but neither Weston nor her students flinched.
“The confidence, faith and strength the artists have is tremendous,” Weston said. “When presented with a challenge like this, they just rolled up their sleeves and developed a new collection of 30 clay sculptures and over 40 paintings. We had a deadline, we worked as a strong team, we planned accordingly, and we met it!”
One of the unique aspects that Weston brings to the program is her emphasis on the business of art. In addition to being an award-winning artist herself, Weston has experience in the corporate world. One element of her vision is to get students to see that art can be a vocation or their creativity can be applied to their vocation of choice.
In the fall semester, she collaborated with performing arts teacher Daniel Foster to have an art show in conjunction with the school play. The hook for the students was they were allowed to sell their art, and they had a captive audience of potential buyers in the play’s attendees.
This type of collaboration between museums and theaters to exhibit and sell visual art is common. This small-scale exhibit last fall resulted in eight students profiting from their investment in their own artistic talents.
The exhibit at the UCCS community space was a larger version of this first exhibit-for-sale success, and ten pieces of art have sold so far for a total of over $1,000.
For this exhibit/sale combo, Weston added a charitable giving requirement. Ten percent of each sale is donated to UCCS to benefit children’s art programs. The students also reimbursed the school for the relatively low cost of the materials they used. After those two requirements were satisfied, the students retained the remaining profit.
To add learning and pressure, each student priced their own artwork. Weston wanted the students to understand both the business of art and their personal value. “Art can be a real business, it’s entrepreneurship combined with ingenuity.” She also wanted the students to recognize their value, “Don’t ever undersell your creativity and your ability!”
If you know an artistically talented student looking for a joyful, faithful and academically rigorous Catholic high school education, contact the school (719) 635-7540, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Robyn Cross is the St. Mary’s High School Principal)