For 30 years, art students from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have been setting the table and the community has feasted.
The annual Visual Feast art show, featuring dozens of pieces from schools in the borough, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019, and kicked off a month of displays with a reception Thursday evening at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.
Hosted by the Art Guild, Visual Feast combines middle school and high school displays in a variety of formats and mediums — from two- and three-dimensional works to watercolor, photography and ceramic sculpture.
Soldotna High School art teacher Chris Jenness is helping to organize the show and said the event is a perfect opportunity for kids to not only show off their work, but also to have a look at what others produce from their own inspiration.
“It’s a chance for them to step out of their art room and see the variety that is on display,” Jenness said. “And we do see a level of quality here that is phenomenal.”
Jenness said that district-funded art programs on the central peninsula have helped keep the creativity flowing and keep art classes in school.
“That value in the arts allows us to keep doing this,” Jenness said.
One of the longest-tenured art teachers in the district Andrea Eggleston has overseen more Visual Feast shows in her time than any other teacher and echoed Jenness’ thoughts in support of the district.
“It’s a nice commentary on the talent of these kids,” Eggleston said. “We’ve been supported by the district for 30 years, and they haven’t give up on them.”
Eggleston has been working in the school district for 19 years, including 16 at Skyview Middle School, and said Visual Feast holds a special place in her heart because of how many schools submit works of art.
“I equate this to something like the region basketball tournament,” Eggleston said. “Everyone comes together for it. As a teacher you get to watch them grow as an artist and watch some of the kids become unexpected artists, when they may not have believed they could be an artist.”
This year’s Visual Feast housed submitted pieces of art from at least 12 different schools, including middle and high school programs in Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski, Homer and Seward.
There are nine different categories that submissions are sorted into. The list includes painting, drawing, watercolor, photography, mixed media, sculpture, sculptural ceramics, functional ceramics and an open category.
Among the many artists who submitted work was SoHi senior Kennedy Holland, who said trying her hand in last year’s show spurred her to return for another go this year. Kennedy turned out three pieces in three different categories; one sculpture, one photograph and one in the “open” class, the latter of which dominated one wall of the gallery with an array of ceramic tiles arranged in a jarring display of colors and textures.
Holland’s sculpture piece also stood out in the middle of the room; a flowing ceramic dragon. Holland said if not for the art program in school, students would not have as many outlets to let their imaginations flow.
“My art teachers are some of the best ever,” she said. “I think a lot of them are under appreciated, because it’s important for kids to have good art teachers.”
Another of those teachers is SoHi ceramics teacher Stephanie Cox, who has seen many shows in her 14 years at the school. Cox said among the hundreds of students she’s taught and the thousands of artistic creations she’s seen come through her class, it amazes her to continually see the evolution of design and trends.
“Not much has changed, but there are still pieces you never expect the kids to make,” Cox said. “We’re still here doing this, and that gives me hope.”
One thing that is new is the addition of QR codes that adorn the bottom of some of the creations. To the untrained eye, the QR code — “Quick Response” code — is nothing but a jumble of black and white blocks.
But train a smartphone camera on the code and it brings the listener a sound bite from the artist. Cox said a select few students prerecorded explanations to what their art means and the inspiration behind it.
“We want to hear the voice behind the art,” Cox said. “We want the kids to talk about their art, appreciate it, and this is a way for them to speak back.”
Kenai Central junior Kataryna Domanska said in her first year as a foreign exchange student from Ukraine, and said having the chance to practice her skills in Alaska’s school system has given her a new appreciation for Kenai’s art program.
“Being able to express my feelings and views is an amazing feeling,” she said. “Building skills is great and that’s why judges appreciate it.”