Open Studios

A student works on a project in Open Studios workshop of the revamped art club at Chariho High.


The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — The art club at Chariho high school has undergone some major changes this year.

In addition to grouping six programs and activities under the club umbrella, humanities specialist and art club adviser Dana Thomas Hall said the programs are now being led by students. “A lot of these programs are successful when they have a student at the helm versus an adult,” she said.

In addition to a weekly open studio for the visual arts, the club has diversified its offerings to include a repurposed fashion and design workshop, a filmmaking program called Cinemates, a monthly master class with varied media and instructors, and a range of field trips.

Hall said the new programs were proposed by students.

“A lot of these students were coming to me and saying, ‘Can we create a film club? Can we create a repurposed fashion club?’” she said. “And I said, ‘Why can’t this just all be under art club and these are different programs?’ So what we did was, we looked at the former structure of art club, which was a Wednesday after school, and it’s really modeled an open studio feel where kids went into the art room from 2:25 to 3 and they spent time sketching and drawing together and there was about six or seven of them and it was great.”

Hall didn’t want to eliminate the popular open studio program, so instead, at the start of the current school year, she began introducing additional programs. “We actually have something going on every day after school,” she said.

Participants in the film program now meet once a week, as do members of the fashion and design program. Kaylyn Wood and Kassie Fisher founded repurposed fashion and design in their freshman year and now co-lead the program. With a grant from the Community 2000 Education Foundation, the program bought sewing machines.

“Right now, I’m teaching one of the new students to sew, because I want to do that,” Wood said. “But if I ever want to work on my own project, I always have a teacher that would be able to help me.”

The program presents a fashion show each year, using donated garments that are repurposed into new designs.

“Our fashion show this year is going to be Girl Power,” Wood said. “It’s kind of like superheroes. This year, we’re learning how to transform, so you go on the runway in a dress and then you come off and you’re in a super suit.”

Once a month, there’s a master class. “We invite a teaching artist from the industry to come in and teach a lesson to students,” Hall said. “It’s a sign-up only. It’s up to 20 spots.” 

Dalton Stone leads the master class program, which began in January. “I started volunteering with the Tomaquag Museum over the summer and I was talking to Silvermoon LaRose, who is an educator there,” he said. “…We were talking about creating a program that would bring more recognition to native traditions and culture.”

Other master class instructors have included Narragansett artist Mishki Thompson, who taught a class in beading.

“It was a lot of fun, and Mishki did a good job teaching us, going through the process,” Stone said. “Silvermoon definitely knew what she was doing, creating the workshop schedule, finding artists to come in.”

The Cinemates film program is led by Madison Lawing, one of Chariho’s most experienced student actors. The program, which has about 13 participants, began meeting in September.

“Most recently, we’ve been collaborating on writing scripts, thinking of ideas and actually producing a film,” Lawing said. “And then, we all get together and watch each other’s films and it’s really fun.”

Cinemates will be the primary organizer of the annual Chariho film festival, which features 20 student films, curated by a team of teachers who volunteer their time to screen and judge the films.

Lawing has chosen the process of filmmaking as the focus of her independent study, in which students can pursue and subjects not covered in the Chariho curriculum, and receive credit.

“I’m doing an independent study about the process of filmmaking and taking what I’ve learned on the stage, acting stuff, and transferring it into how I can use it in film,” she said.

The diverse art club offerings, Hall said, will make art accessible to more students.

“What we found is, a lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to fit art in their schedule,” Hall said. “They love art. The art club now is almost like a hub. The drama club needs costumes, they ask repurposed runway. They need rocks, so the students in open studio have committed to making these papier-mâché  rocks that we need for a student’s independent study.”

Chariho principal Craig MacKenzie welcomed the expansion of the school’s art club.

“I’m excited about the initiative students in the fine and performing arts have take to redesign art club,” he said. “In its new iteration, students have opportunities every day to explore art through experiences at regional venues, learn from local and regional artists through master classes, and build a community of Chariho artists that share practice and express their creativity. I love that students are leading the various art initiatives under the umbrella of this club.”


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