By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The darkened room inside the Fine Arts Building at the University of Nebraska at Kearney allowed the camera to capture their motions.
Using cellphone lights, the group of high school students was instructed to write their names in the air. It seemed silly to some, but the result was mesmerizing as they viewed the image on a computer screen.
The long-exposure photo showed eight distinct signatures, with some penmanship better than others.
Professor Derrick Burbul called it “an experiment in chaos” as he showed the group how to create “expressive” images that go beyond standard photography.
The lesson was part of Wednesday’s Imagination Day at UNK, an event that brought about 70 students from eight Nebraska high schools to campus to explore the department of art and design.
For Burbul, it’s an opportunity to connect with high schoolers in a creative way.
“Getting them on campus and showing them a little bit about what we do hopefully engages them and excites them,” he said.
The program, hosted in the fall and spring by the UNK department of art and design, introduces high schoolers to the courses offered at the university and exposes them to new techniques and equipment.
Levi Harrison, a sophomore art education major at UNK and Kearney High School graduate, gave glassblowing demonstrations inside the Otto C. Olsen building during the event, which is in its third year.
He said Imagination Day helps high schoolers see there’s more to art than drawing, painting and basic pottery.
“There are so many different types of art classes that nobody really knows about unless they’re in the art program,” said Harrison, who volunteered last year as a guide for Imagination Day.
The goal, he said, is to show high schoolers all the possibilities at UNK.
“It gets their foot in the door,” he said.
In addition to glassblowing, Wednesday’s event included workshops on ceramics, printmaking, photography, 3-D modeling, letterpress printing and art portfolios. Discussions focused on career choices in the arts field and postsecondary education.
Libby Clark, a second-year art and graphic design teacher at Ravenna High School, brought 14 students to campus so they could learn more about potential careers and see firsthand how UNK can help them reach their professional goals.
“I was looking for something for my older art students to get out into the community and see art as an actual career possibility,” said Clark, who graduated from UNK.
“It’s just a neat field trip for the day,” she added.
Ogallala High School art teacher Emma Fulton was attending her third Imagination Day with students. The UNK alumna said she makes the trip so students can experience art in a university setting and start thinking about its uses beyond high school.
Abby Webb, a UNK graduate who teaches art at Axtell Community School, agreed that getting high schoolers on a university campus is a big step toward college enrollment.
“It’s really important because they get that future vision,” Webb said.
Recruitment is part of the mission for Imagination Day, which has brought about 400 high school students to campus over the past three years.
“We’re trying to show how we differ from other schools. UNK is all about individual attention,” said Rick Schuessler, chair of the department of art and design and an organizer of the event.
Schuessler, who led the letterpress printing workshop, said the program attracts high schools from across Nebraska, including Lincoln and Omaha, as well as northern Kansas. A number of past participants are currently majoring in art at UNK and several more are admitted for the 2018-19 academic year, according to Schuessler.
“I think that’s a big dividend of what we’re doing here,” he said.
UNK art and design Assistant Professor Bill Cavill Jr., another event organizer along with lecturer Christy Kosmicki, believes the event benefits everyone involved.
High school students get to experience a college art class and meet professional artists and university students working toward that goal.
Cavill wants them to know it’s possible to make art and a living at the same time, even in Nebraska.
“It helps them to realize that it’s not something beyond the realm of possibility, that it is an option for them,” he said.
High school teachers accompanying their students can connect with each other and UNK faculty while learning about the programs offered and how the university can support their lesson plans.
“A lot of them don’t have the capacity to do the things that we do here, so they get to have their students have those experiences,” Cavill said.
Schools participating in Wednesday’s Imagination Day at the University of Nebraska at Kearney:
Grand Island Northwest