By Melinda Munson

Skagway School is in its second year of employing a full-time art teacher. Various colorful pieces are on display in the hallway: some hang from the ceiling, others are tactile and designed specifically for blind students to touch while a few were composed by a mother/daughter team. 

For the first time, art educator Valerie Larsen is enjoying her own classroom space with natural light. Last year, she occupied a portion of the vocational shop.

“I am very passionate about art and having a mindful classroom where students can kind of relax and build confidence and develop their skills,” Larsen said.

She recently received a grant to cover art books and storage for first grade through high school. The two mini libraries will live in her classroom.

Several students choose to stay after school each day to work on projects. The atmosphere is quiet and studious. 

Fourth grader Anika Thole agreed to show off her work.

“I take art really seriously,” she said. “I just think art will be a big part of my life.”

Larsen said Thole is excelling in her class. Thole inquired what excelling meant, then agreed.

“Art isn’t just art, okay?” Thole explained. “It’s actually history. It can be math, it can be reading, it can be almost every single subject.”

When asked what emotions she experiences when she is creating, Thole replied, “ I feel calm, sometimes excited … but mostly calm.”

Skagway School District is one of five rural districts growing art in their school and community through the Rural Art Initiative (RAI), sponsored by the Alaska Arts Education Consortium. In its second of three years, the program sets out specific goals for Larsen to meet.

One of those goals is for students to display work in the community. First through twelfth graders participated in the Arts Council Spring Show of Winter Work, held at AB Hall. Larsen also spoke at Citizens Present at the Oct. 5 Assembly Meeting and asked the newly elected body for space in City Hall to rotate student artwork on a monthly basis.

“I love that idea,” said Assemblymember Jay Burnham. “That would be cool. …It doesn’t seem like it needs a big official thing.” The assembly agreed to come up with a plan to move the suggestion forward.

Larsen plans to ask other entities to exhibit student artwork, perhaps the Skagway Museum or AB Hall. She stressed the work would be nicely matted and framed. 

Another goal of RAI is to find a Skagway committee member. Magician and musician Andrew Nadon served in the position last year. Larsen is looking for “someone in the community who is passionate about arts who is not over committed, who can take a little time to just help me.”