An existing connection between Juneau high schools and an art school in Jacmel, Haiti, has provided local teachers and students a direct way to help those in need in a country reeling from disaster.
A fundraiser will be held Saturday at Thunder Mountain High School to benefit the Haitian school, called the Art Creation Foundation for Children. The link between the two communities was forged in 2005 by Ryan Conarro and former Juneau-Douglas High School drama teacher Bethany Bereman. The two put on a JDHS play, "Once On This Island," which is set on an unnamed island modeled on Haiti. Aware of the extreme poverty in that country, Conarro and Bereman decided to funnel the proceeds from an extra performance of the play toward the people who live there, and, after an Internet search, settled on the school in Jacmel.
Now, Ryan Conarro's sister, Sarah, is continuing the connection in response to the recent crisis brought on by the Jan. 12 earthquake. Sarah Conarro, an art teacher at THMS, has paired up with history teacher Gretchen Kriegmont to host Saturday's fundraiser with help from their students.
Sarah Conarro said she and Kriegmont had been thinking on parallel tracks in their classrooms during the past week, discussing how to help Haiti earthquake victims, and, after hearing from their students, joined forces. The school in Jacmel seemed a natural choice, as a personal connection was already in place.
"We are just happy that we know where the money is going," Sarah Conarro said.
Sarah Conarro has been in touch by e-mail with the school's president, Judy Hoffman, who is based in Miami. Hoffman told Conarro that thus far, the community of Jacmel has received no aid.
The event, held from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday in the TMHS commons, will include live bluegrass music, an art/music performance and a dessert auction. Musicians participating include Ed Littlefield, Nicole Lantz and Curtis Norris, among others.
Sarah Conarro, who headed up the art portion of the event, has planned an interpretive painting project with Littlefield that involves an exchange of creative energy between art and music. Conarro and TMHS student painters will respond to the music that's being played through their paintbrushes on a giant canvas; then, the musicians will take a turn in responding to the painters.
"The gist is we're supposed to paint what they're playing, and then we switch halfway through, and Ed will play what we're painting," Conarro said, adding that she and Littlefield had previously completed a similar project with very positive results.
A slide show also will be shown during the event, depicting images of the school and of the aftermath of the earthquake.
A dessert auction, organized by Kriegmont, will raise funds directly for the school. Other raffle items also will be accepted from those willing to donate, as will any monetary donations. Items made by the school's art students will be for sale as well.
The Art Creation Foundation For Children officially opened in 2003, and now serves 60 children. It is open to children ages 6-11, and serves youth who live on the street or those in desperate poverty. In Haiti, learning how to create art is seen as a marketable skill; artists there are viewed as professionals. In addition to teaching the kids, the school provides them with free meals.
For more information about the fundraiser, contact Sarah Conarro at email@example.com or 780-1947. For information on the dessert auction or other items, contact Gretchen Kriegmont at 780-1936.
For more on the Art Creation Foundation, visit www.artforhaitianchildren.org