We are lucky. Whether we call this Island home for a week, a year, or generations at a time, we are indeed a very fortunate group. I feel grateful for this unique place and wonderful community and then doubly so for the lightness that comes from stepping through the majority of my days filled with that gratitude. This feeling was recently refreshed as I helped the Vineyard Conservation Society launch a new art contest for Island high school students. VCS is turning 50 next year and as I imagine happens to most of us, as such a milestone approaches the organization is doing some soul searching. It is a process both sweet — marveling at what has been accomplished — and uncertain, wondering what the future holds, which is the most prudent path ahead that will really make a difference to the vibrancy of this community and the nature that defines this place. Many ideas have come from this process — some grandiose, some simple.
One of the ideas that recently took shape was to pose some of the conservation society’s internal questions to the young people who are rising to take our places as the Island’s decision makers. What does this next generation see as precious about living on Martha’s Vineyard? What do they hope for the future here? What changes do they fear? What do they identify with? What do they want to see protected — whether it be a particular stand of trees, a built landmark or a way of life? We saw the contest as an opportunity to ask students to look at the Island a little more carefully and think about what they cherish here, an inquiry that we hope extends beyond the days of creating the contest artwork. The students of the Island’s two high schools were asked to respond to our questions through painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. The results, which were displayed at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center’s Feldman Family Art Space, are both interesting and visually wonderful.
As beautiful and provocative as the student artwork has proven to be, what is at least equally impressive and lovely has been the response from the community to this effort. Organizing the contest was a bit of a task. Without exception we received nothing but support from all those who were asked.
First, the regional high school and charter school had to agree to support the idea mid-year and individual teachers had to make space for it in class time that was already stretched. I want to emphasize how blessed this community is to have such amazing teachers. The schools said yes to our pitch, but what followed was months of communicating with individual teachers. Chris Baer at the high school and Ken Vincent at the charter school were involved and gave their time from the moment the idea was first hatched. They helped form the criteria for judging the contest, gave shape to the concept, posed concerns and lent experience from other contests in which they have had students participate. Once we were underway, Chris took it upon himself to make a handout helping students think through the questions VCS had posed and then helped them formulate the paragraph we asked students to submit describing the intent of their process and connection to our theme. Chris, Ken, Tiffany Shoquist and Brendan Coogan all embraced our idea strongly enough that creating artwork for the contest became an assignment in their various classes.
Any of these teachers could have politely listened to our pitch and hung flyers in their classrooms notifying students of the contest. There was no requirement that they do more, but they did so much more. They are as much responsible for the shape and success of this contest as is anyone. We invaded their classrooms, we borrowed their enthusiasm when ours flagged, we trusted their insight, we filled their email accounts, we stood back in awe.
Educomp and daRosa’s stretched above and beyond to give fabulously generous prizes to the winning artists, and allowed us to keep our awards — art supplies from a local business — attached to the intent of the contest. The Scottish Bakehouse, Tisberry, the Film Center and Mocha Mott’s added yet more gift certificates to allow us to award additional prizes to works given special distinction by the judges. Ann Smith from Featherstone advised and bolstered us early on with her kindness and infectious enthusiasm. Chris Morse and Dan Van Landingham spent an entire Friday afternoon judging close to 100 pieces of artwork, at a time of year when none of us seem to have an extra second to spare. Kathy Morris from the Frame Center donated framing on all of the winning pieces of artwork. Richard Paradise gave us the extraordinary gift of allowing us to use the Feldman Family Art Space at his Film Center to hold the showing of the winning artwork. Paul Brisette hung the show and this, combined with the framing and the wonderful space, resulted in a totally professional art show for the high school students. Mermaid Farm, Chilmark Chocolates and Cronig’s all donated food for our opening celebration.
The result of all these efforts was a hugely successful launch that promises to become an annual event.
If the artwork these students created is any indication, it has displayed once again what an inherently moving and beautiful place this Island is. But this contest has also done an equally good job of displaying the beauty of the community here. This beauty in the community, however, is not inherent, rather it is the day-to-day result of how each of us lives here; it grows out of how we interact and react, how we work together and when we choose to stand apart.
We at Vineyard Conservation say thank you. Thank you to everyone who supported this great new event. Thank you to everyone who makes this community the deeply beautiful place it is. There is no other. We are indeed so very lucky.
Samantha Look lives in West Tisbury and is a board member for the Vineyard Conservation Society.