The philosophy behind Foundation Arts is simple: everyone should be exposed to the arts, and everyone can find a way to be an artist. “We want to foster a lifelong relationship with the arts, an appreciation for art that will last well beyond high school,” says Arts Department Chair and founding teacher Hillary Younglove. “When the school was founded, we knew that we wanted to build the arts into our graduation requirements, to demonstrate our commitment to the value of art in all of our lives.” Each Sonoma Academy student graduates having taken at least one semester of Foundation Arts in Music, Theater, Visual Art, or Visual Thinking and Fabrication. These courses are more than just introductory surveys; they are invitations to join the artistic community at our school and opportunities to explore the broad range of creative endeavors available to them at SA.
When she was first envisioning an introductory visual art course, Hillary used her own training at the Rhode Island School of Design to conceive of a class that exposed students to many different media and techniques. “At RISD, in the first year, we had to take courses in drawing, painting, and sculpture, no matter what our chosen medium was. It was a method inspired by the Bauhaus,” she says. “So in Foundation Arts, we cover some basics in all of those areas...plus photo, digital and media arts, street art, adding in new projects as the art world changes.”
In FA: Visual Art, students learn classic technique and skills (“the grammar of art,” as Hillary says), but she also adds in new projects every year. “The art world is always shifting, and I create assignments around what’s going on the news, what feels relevant. And I love the challenge of the unknown. I definitely prefer that to a static environment where everything is the same every year,” says Hillary. Learning to give, receive, and integrate critique is an important part of the course, as it is in each Foundation Arts class.
Director of Theater Jen Cote also designed Foundation Arts: Theater to be a comprehensive introduction to every facet of dramatic arts. “Acting, directing, playwriting, set and costume design, theater tech, even a little filmmaking...we do everything!” says Jen. FA Theater students get a taste of all of these disciplines so everyone can identify an area where they excel, whether they feel at home on stage or prefer to be behind the scenes.
Jen also has a bit of a hidden agenda: “I call Foundation Arts my propaganda class. My not-very-secret sneaky plan is to use Foundation Arts to identify the talents and passions of our freshman students, so I can recruit them to become involved in the theater program for years to come!” Many of Jen’s most relied-upon actors, designers, and directors discovered their interest in Foundation Arts, including several of the cast and crew members of our current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In Amanda’s Foundation Arts: Music class, she seeks to give students a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of music as an art form, whether they are already experienced musicians or they haven’t had any formal music education in the past. “Not every student is a music student when they come in,” says Amanda, “but I know that every student comes in with a personal relationship to music in some form.” An important goal is to educate students as consumers of music, providing context on American music history (including contemporary music of many genres). Music literacy is mostly taught through performance on instruments (this year, ukelele, taiko drums, and digital instrumentation tools).
FA: Music is organized with a kind of inside-outward structure, looking first at the effect of music of the (both neurotypyical and neurodiverse) brain, then expanding out to music’s impact on the self, on communities, and on the world. This combination of global music history, critique, theory, and performance provides an introductory course that engages students no matter what their previous level of experience is.
The newest addition to the Foundation Arts lineup is Visual Thinking and Fabrication, taught by Eric Moes. “Our motto is think it, draw it, build it,” he says. Using a wide variety of tools ranging from cardboard and foamcore to laser printers and shop tools, students sharpen spatial awareness as they bring their ideas into three dimensional reality. In every project, they utilize the process of design thinking: research, sketching, prototyping, test, analyzing, and re-designing after taking note of what worked and what didn’t.
Critique and self-reflection are just as important to this course as designing and building are. “It’s all about problem solving,” says Eric. “It’s less about me stand up in front of the class and telling them how to do something and more about presenting a problem and challenging them to figure out a way to approach it in their own way.”
This process of planning, drafting, experimenting, and reflecting is really at the “Foundation” in all of our Foundation Arts courses. These skills are useful not only in the arts, but across academic disciplines, in co-curricular activities, and in the working world. We have never approached arts education as something “extra” or outside of our core curriculum; we know that every student benefits from the beauty, the joy, the rigor, and the self-expression that can be unlocked through participation in the arts.