Paul Brissette stood in front of the Grange Hall Thursday evening to receive the Permanent Endowment Fund’s 2012 Creative Living Award and pulled from his pocket a small white carton. On it were written the words The Box.
“The Box contains all the knowledge and experience human beings have accumulated thus far,” Mr. Brissette told the gathering of friends, family members, colleagues and community members. “Outside the box is all that is possible. Outside the box is where art educators, artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, dancers, writers, photographers and designers remind us of who we are while experimenting with where we are headed.”
Graphic designers and painters are just a couple of the types of artists Mr. Brissette has inspired during his 33 years in the art department at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where he transformed a single-room, single-course class into a nationally-recognized art, design and technology department. Today that department offers more than 30 courses. Proof of his success hung on the Grange Hall walls, with students’ pencil sketches from the 1980s, oil paintings of the 1990s, digital photographs from the 2000s and photorealistic architectural drafts from the present.
“The creative path is not always the easiest, the most lucrative, quantifiable or most efficient one to follow,” said Mr. Brissette. “On the upside, it is the place where mistakes become opportunities . . . most important, creativity is not the exclusive playground of the artist.” Creativity comes in all forms, from the code of a website developer, the speech of a politician, to the comforting meal of a mother, he said.
Mr. Brissette stressed that none of his work would have been possible without the support of an arts-friendly faculty, administration and community.
“That doesn’t happen everywhere,” said Mr. Brissette. “It really does take an Island to raise a child.”
The Permanent Endowment’s Creative Living Award was established 30 years ago through the Ruth J. Bogan and Ruth Redding Fund, and recognizes community members who strengthen the quality of life on the Vineyard.
Endowment fund member Paul Karasik presented Mr. Brissette with the award — a rock on a platform — to symbolize both the permanence of the fund’s intentions and the foundation laid by Mr. Brissette for future artists to build upon.
“It’s not made of gum, it’s a rock,” clarified Mr. Karasik, poking fun at the gum sculptures Mr. Brissette has been known to make in the past.
High school principal Steve Nixon also remembered some of Mr. Brissette’s more questionable artistic endeavors.
“Paul has gone through several phases,” he said. Addressing Mr. Brissette’s wife in the front row, Mr. Nixon continued: “Like his household objects phase. Mary, you have my sympathies. If you are looking for your remote control or car keys, they are in a frame above Paul’s desk.”
Co-worker and past student Chris Baer remembered his first year of high school with Mr. Brissette, particuarly one time when his wackiness got the best of him.
“He had us literally rolling on the floor laughing with a comedy routine done entirely with drinking straws,” said Mr. Baer.
Whether it was building designs with drinking straws, creating holograms with lasers and chemicals, or designing video games, Mr. Baer said, Mr. Brissette could teach anything with his natural enthusiasm.
“He taught me that if kids forget everything we teach them, it doesn’t really matter as long as we excite them and inspire them.”
After all the kind words, including a citation from Rep. Tim Madden, Mr. Brissette said he was overwhelmed.
“When I told my high school guidance counselor that I wanted to be a teacher, she paused and said, ‘You won’t get rich.’ She was wrong, because I could not be richer tonight.”