“Arts Alive Festival” goes virtual for Westerville Central students, staff

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Westerville Central’s virtual Arts Alive Festival website showcases over 500 original works of art and allows the purchase this year’s event t-shirt and sticker. Pictured are some of the students’ chalk art submissions: upper left (hawk), Andrew Plas, 9th grade; upper middle (space), Allyson Okonak, 11th grade, and family team member Erin Okonak, 8th grade, Genoa Middle; upper right (girl & dog), Brooke Middleton, 9th grade; bottom (school), Morgan Meissner, 12th grade.




Now in its 14th year, Westerville Central High School’s Arts Alive Festival traditionally features live music, hands-on activities, and hundreds of students fanned out across the campus creating, displaying and appreciating the artistic talents of their school community.

This year, however, with school buildings across the state closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, art teachers Jennifer Kiko and Derrick Ehlen found a way to maintain the tradition and literally keep the arts alive for their students.

Kiko and Ehlen, fellow art teachers Liz Schar and Jo Yarano, and 50 students started planning the day as normal back in January. They also finalized t-shirt and sticker designs before distance learning began.

“We had over 105 students sign up on our pre-registration and interest form, but registering in advance wasn’t required to participate,” Kiko explained. “Students were provided links to acquire the kind of chalk typically used on Arts Alive Festival day, and then we were able to order more and deliver over 30 chalk packs to students unable to acquire the supplies.”

Ehlen began working on a website to feature students’ creations. Now, following hundreds of hours of site design and maintenance, the virtual Arts Alive Festival pages showcase over 500 original works of art from students, and even a few submissions from teachers.

“We tried our best to replicate the energy and positivity that we usually have on Arts Alive day at Central, but virtually,” Ehlen said. “It’s a defining event for our students each year, and now more than ever, we wanted to provide them with a way to express themselves and feel connected.”

Friday, May 1, and Saturday, May 2, served up the perfect sunny days needed for students to get outside, practice social distancing with members of their “tribes” (or families), and use their driveways and sidewalks as the canvas for their creations.

“We’re so thankful to the students, staff, and parents that helped make this happen this year,” Kiko said. “This day embodies celebrating diversity and expression, so we want to continue to provide students with the opportunity to do so online.” 

Ehlen added that he and Kiko are still getting submissions, chalk, and artwork, and will continue to upload works of art to the website until the end of the school year, even though the actual day is over.

This is the first year for the Arts Alive Festival to have an online, virtual presence. The event website, available at https://sites.google.com/westerville.k12.oh.us/wchs-arts-alive/home, features a chalk art gallery, an art gallery of student work from the year, and a music performance gallery. This year’s event t-shirt, designed by Junior Kathryn Fought, and sticker, designed by Senior Jessica Baker, are available for sale on the website.