By Jan Mercker
Don’t think renaissance kids exist anymore? Meet Pam Smith’s students at the Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg.
They’ve spent the past two years preparing for careers in graphic design with all the high-tech education that involves. But most of them are artists at heart. This year’s winter public art show at Leesburg Town Hall gives these talented teens a chance to display their creative sides—showcasing painting, photography and digital work.
“It’s a fun way for them to get their art out there and to show some of the skills that they’ve learned here—and an opportunity for the public to see what they do,” said Smith, who runs the Graphic Communications program at Monroe, Loudoun County Public Schools’ career and technical academy.
Loudouners can meet the artists and check out their work at a public reception scheduled for Friday, Feb. 2, as part of Leesburg’s First Friday celebrations.
Over the past two years, seniors like Allison Kasekamp have been gearing up for college and careers: working with clients and learning everything from layout and typography to color theory and digital output. But they still love making art on their own, and the annual show gives them a chance to shine.
“It’s always been a passion of mine to have art and technology come together,” said Kasekamp, a Stone Bridge High School senior who spends alternate days at Monroe with her classmates from around the county.
For Kasekamp, Smith’s program, which has students doing real work for real clients, has been an invaluable experience.
“It’s more than just technical skills,” said Kasekamp, who is a state officer for Lucketts-based Skills USA, an international organization for career and technical education students. “Obviously, I’ve learned all sorts of Adobe programs—InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator. But I’ve also worked with a lot of clients. … It’s really exciting when you have a new client and they come in and you get to meet them. … Just seeing their faces when you finish the job and how happy they are—it’s a really nice feeling.”
Annie Lai, a senior at Dominion High School, agrees.
“It’s actually like a business so you have deadlines, you have plans, you have connections on the line, so it feels like an actual workplace,” Lai said.
But both young women are excited to show off their creative sides at the town hall show. Lai is especially proud of her serene anime-style drawing of a young girl. Lai sketched the image, then scanned it and digitally modified the lines and added a pale blue background.
For classmate Melissa Swanchara, a senior at Riverside High School, the artistic side of graphic design is what it’s all about. Swanchara, who has two large-scale acrylic pieces in the Leesburg show, takes Advanced Placement studio art at her home school and has been accepted to the arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University and New York’s Pratt Institute. She’s considering a career in illustration and said the graphics program at Monroe has prepared her well. “I like to think the two go hand in hand,” Swanchara said.
Now in its fifth year, the annual show features work from both first- and second-year graphics students in range of styles—from straight up-paintings to work that has been digitally manipulated in Photoshop to purely digital work created in Illustrator, along with scanography collages made by scanning and pulling together elements including photos and text.
And while some of the pieces submitted to the Leesburg show came out of class assignments, many are the students’ personal, out-of-class work.
“You want to push yourself,” said Loudoun Valley High School senior Joseph Cypher. “What I’ve learned here is to never be too comfortable.”
Cypher’s poignant pencil and charcoal drawing of military service member being embraced by a friend and his digitally enhanced still life photograph of a nail in a board are two standouts at the show.
This year’s show is particularly bittersweet for Smith as it comes at a moment of transition for her program. The Graphics Communication program and the other MTC disciplines move to their new digs at the Academies of Loudoun building this summer, under the new name Monroe Advanced Technical Academy. Meanwhile, the graphics concentration has shifted from a two-year to a one-year pathway, with this year’s graduating class as Smith’s final two-year group.
The Monroe art show was launched five years ago as a partnership between the school and the Leesburg Commission on Public Art and has been a beloved tradition ever since. The work of professional artists is regularly on exhibit in the Town Hall lobby and hallways, and the Monroe students are held in the same regard, said Anne Geiger, a project manager who serves as the town’s liaison with the LCPA. It’s the perfect first taste of showing work to a wider audience as students get ready for college and the professional world.
“We treat them like the professional artists,” said Geiger, who underscored that, as with other professional artists showing at the town hall, the students’ work is for sale.
“It gives the students an outlet to actually show their work to the public and get a much wider variety of people looking at it than who may go to the school.”
A reception for Monroe Technology Center student artists will be held Friday, Feb. 2, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St. in Leesburg, and will include refreshments prepared by MTC Culinary Arts students. The show runs through Feb. 28. For more information about Monroe Technology Center, go to lcps.org/mtc.