Celebrating Student Art

By Mike McInnally

Claudia Enciso Kuracia, right, and Christa Schmeder talk about their work to organize the Corvallis School District’s first district-wide art show during an April 20, 2023 celebration at Benton County’s Kalapuya Building

Just about all the pieces were falling into place for Christa Schmeder and Claudia Enciso Kuraica.

The two had won a $5,000 IMAGINE grant from the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation to help pay for the first districtwide art show featuring student work. They had earned the trust of the district’s art teachers, assuring the teachers that the students’ work would be showcased in a professional manner.

What they didn’t have was a location for the show.

Schmeder, an art teacher at Corvallis High School, and Enciso Kuraica, an administrative assistant and translator who works at the district office, had called all around Corvallis searching for a place willing and able to host the show. Some of the potential locations, though, were too small. Others told the duo that their gallery spaces weren’t immediately available but might be in three years or so.

“Hard pass,” Schmeder said. “We’re doing this this year.”

Finally, Enciso Kuraica checked with the Benton County Fairgrounds, but learned that the fairgrounds probably wasn’t a good fit for the show. But she got a tip: Remodeling work was just about finished on the county’s Kalapuya Building in southwest Corvallis. Maybe they should look there.

They did, and they caught it on a good day: “The very first time I was in this building was to see if it was good for an art show,” Schmeder said. “And it could not have been more perfect. They must have just finished all the walls, but nothing was hanging. … It was just a giant white wall space.”

Even better, Benton County employees were enthusiastic about hosting the districtwide art show: Recalled Enciso Kuraica: “They were like, ‘that sounds like fun.’ Everything was ‘yes, yes, yes.’”

It culminated in a celebration billed the CSD pARTy, held on the same day, April 20, that Benton County hosted an open house in the building.  

And it seems likely that the districtwide art show has found a permanent home for years to come.

As the CSD pARTy wound down, Schmeder and Enciso Kuraica sat in a corner of the bustling Kalapuya Building and talked about their effort, which hinged on the growing relationship between the two women.

Among Enciso Kuraica’s tasks for the Corvallis School District has been to arrange student art shows for viewing in the room where the district’s Board of Trustees meets. Enciso Kuraica, who curated art shows in Mexico, enjoyed the task. But she always was a little frustrated about the small size of the boardroom.

“Why don’t we do something bigger?” she asked. Other school districts hosted districtwide art shows. Why not Corvallis?

Enciso Kuraica’s work on the boardroom shows brought her into frequent contact with Schmeder. Eventually, she pitched Schmeder the idea for the districtwide show — and even had an idea for how to finance it: Apply for one of the Imagine grants from the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation. “Imagine that we get that,” Enciso Kuraica told Schmeder.

Formerly called Learning Enrichment Grants, the foundation’s Imagine grants are open to any employee of the school district. Requests can range from $500 to $5,000 and are meant to fund innovative initiatives, programs, projects and activities. Priority can be given to proposals that encourage collaboration across classrooms and schools.

The two applied for the full $5,000 — and got it. And they said they appreciated the straightforward nature of the application process.

Schmeder said the application took them just a couple of hours to fill out. “If you’re really going to make anything happen for teachers, it has to take less than two hours,” she joked.

The final project, which filled the hallways and lobby of the Kalapuya Building with student artwork, contained a number of collaborative works in which every student in a district elementary school was able to participate. That delighted the show’s two organizers. 

“Our elementary program is really one of the things we wanted to highlight,” Schmeder said. “Once a kid gets to the fifth grade, that might be the last time they take an art class in our district because of schedules and because of some of the other things kids just have to get done.” The goal is to make sure elementary students get a solid education in art, “because we want these kids to go off to be good connoisseurs of art and good makers of art and to know how to appreciate art in museums.”

It’s all part of a well-rounded education, the two said, noting that art classes are among the items paid for by a voter-approved local option levy.

“The voters voted for this,” Enciso Kuraica said. “This is what they voted for. We wanted them to see it.”

Each individual school in the district might host its own art show, Schmeder said, and that’s important “because that’s the school community coming together.” But it’s also important to pull together a districtwide show, she said, because it’s inspiring to see the quality of work going on at other schools.

And students love to see their work hanging alongside other pieces in what Schmeder called “a real formal space.”

“I don’t want to call it a grown-up space,” she joked. “But really, does it get more grown-up than the place with the tax collector and the marriage licenses?”

Enciso Kuraica gestured at the artwork filling the lobby of the Kalapuya Building. “This was hiding in the schools,” she said.

Schmeder finished the thought: “Now it’s not hiding.”

View a highlight of the art exhibit here!