COVID puts damper on arts program

The 2020 Celebration of Art was held at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center. (Photo by Elaine Adrian)

For student artists, the school year was supposed to conclude with well-deserved award recognition and an enthusiastic celebration with the 41st annual Jeff Cross Memorial Award Ceremony and the 24th Sonoran Arts League Art Incentive Award at the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center. Visual art teachers chose students to receive the award. The Sonoran Arts League’s Youth Art Committee purchased the art supplies traditionally presented to the participants. And the Harmony Hollow Metal Works sent the Jeff Cross Memorial Bell for the honoree, and funds to cover the certificates and ribbons. However, due to coronavirus restrictions, which limited interactions and required physical distancing, the Celebration of Art Exhibit and Awards ceremony on April 16 was canceled. “But the story isn’t over yet,” said event organizer Elaine Adrian, Cave Creek Unified School District special projects, education and community services. “It has a miraculous ending because of innovative thinking and generous contributions from our community.” Celebration of Art is one of only a few events in the desert foothills with a long history. It was started in 1979 by the Cross family in honor of Cave Creek artist Jeff Cross. The Cross family gave the Cave Creek Craft Counsel, a precursor to Sonoran Arts League (SAL), the responsibility of choosing an outstanding art student from the area to receive the award. Education and community services, an independent department of the Cave Creek Unified School District that provides year-round child care, classes, camps and extracurricular activities, joined in years later to provide the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center as the exhibition and award ceremony venue. “Members of the Youth Art Committee and ECS really missed the Celebration of Art art exhibition and awards ceremony, especially the opportunity to give these awards to the gifted student artists,” explained Robin Ray of the Youth Arts Committee. “They hoped the awards ceremony could be rescheduled. But eventually they faced the real possibility of canceling the entire event and prepared to store the art supplies and certificates until next year. However, canceling this long-established awards ceremony was unthinkable.” They came up with a solution. “Since the supplies had already been purchased, Youth Art Committee member Sarah Burns came up with the idea of mailing the art supplies to the students. The committee thought this was a great way to save the celebration,” Ray said. “Sarah personally purchased boxes, Jim and Judy Bruce delivered the art supplies to Sarah’s home, and Sarah enlisted her homebound college kids. And they filled 109 boxes.” “In the meantime, other Youth Art members were busy, collecting the names and mailing addresses of the students and producing a postcard for the art teachers to write to each of their students. The award boxes also contained a personalized folder with several inspiring messages, including a personal note from their art teacher, a list of all of the award winners, a letter from the Sonoran Arts League Youth Art Committee’s Judy Bruce, a note from ECS Director Gina Durbin, a certificate of excellence and a ribbon from the Jeff Cross Memorial, plus a note from CCUSD Superintendent Debbi Burdick.” Included in each folder was a list of free Sonoran Arts League art classes sponsored by Kiwanis. The Youth Art Committee worked with a local UPS Store owner, who donated the cost of shipping the supplies directly to the student’s home—$1,200. “While the Celebration of Art awards ceremony may not have been the extensive art exhibition and celebration that we have had in the past, students were honored according to the new normal of the coronavirus regulations,” Adrian said. “We hope to be back to normal next year.”