• Poly Prep

The View from Here: Poly Prep Arts

The first dress I ever made was for a mid-’90s Spring Dance Concert at Poly Prep, and today, my fiber art sculptural garments are exhibited nationally. The deep roots of my own artistic practice connect directly to my first teaching position, in 1990, at the Lower School when it was still the Woodward Park School. I taught visual and performing arts classes for several years on both Poly campuses and designed costumes for the mainstage theater productions. As part of my professional development during those early teaching years, Poly invested in my training as a costume designer, including sewing and pattern-making classes. I couldn’t have known it then, but the sewing machine remains my most consistent artistic tool, and it is so clear to me that my early Poly years had a transformative impact on my life as a teacher and artist. I’ve shared this personal anecdote about my return to Poly, after almost twenty years, at admissions open houses and alumni events, and as I finish this first year as Head of Arts I am reminded daily in my work on both of Poly’s extraordinary campuses of what an exciting time it is for the arts at Poly.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve joined Heidi Zarou’s third grade visual arts classes as an in-house guest artist. The creative time with third graders making art together provided a wonderful reaffirmation of my return to Poly Prep. I taught students how to use a sewing machine and mentored their collaborative fiber art project—creating large “window” panels that will frame their individual textile collage pieces depicting examples of belonging. Students took turns using the sewing machine, as their peers’ small, guiding hands helped keep the yards of fabric moving smoothly through the repetitive motions of the machine stitching. This textile work is third grade’s culminating project in the Lower School component of a new partnership with the Brooklyn Museum.

Concerts, Concerts, Concerts
April heralded a season of celebratory events, which showcased Poly as a center of arts education. This space is not sufficient to contain all my accolades for the students and faculty who were a part of the Arts Department activities this year, but I’d like to share some observations from the spring season. At the Spring Dance Concert 300 Middle and Upper School dancers from Poly's dance classes, along with dance clubs Dance Team, Step Team, African Dance and Drum Club, Tower Dancers and Young Dancers performed. The Spring Instrumental Concert featured 150 Middle and Upper School students in performances by Sixth Grade Strings, Middle School String Ensemble, Middle School Band, Upper School String Ensemble, Jazz Band, and Concert Band. The annual Spring Visual Art Show and Vocal Concert celebrated the visual art work of 250 Middle and Upper School students and featured over 200 Middle and Upper School singers performing with Young Singers, Concert Choir, Harmonics, Blue Notes, Tower Singers, and A Cappella.

Arts Partnerships
Strengthening Poly’s position as an arts community center includes bringing artists and special programs to our students, as well as experiencing the resources of wider community engagement with arts in Brooklyn. One of the most significant initiatives we established this year was a new arts partnership with the Brooklyn Museum. Working with Laura Coppola ’95, Visual Arts Department Chair, and Robert Aberlin ’65, P’00, ’03 in his new role as Director of Arts Outreach, we launched this exciting program for Poly students in Lower, Middle, and Upper School. Participating students and members of the visual arts faculty visited the museum and met with curators and museum educators. Students observed and critiqued the histories and themes on view through discussion, critical writing, and artmaking. On the Dyker Heights campus, student artwork in our current exhibition grapples with themes presented by museum artworks. Students provided their artful contributions and depictions of what they identified as underrepresented or missing narratives in the American Art collection while considering both contemporary and historical approaches to art making through a myriad of materials including painting, drawing, photography, collage, and fiber art. As a fiber artist myself, I especially enjoyed two mixed media/fiber art pieces by eighth grade students; June Dorsch ’23 created a “Factory Striker Dress” sculptural piece with varied materials including photocopied articles about textile factory strikes, tissue paper and tulle, and embroidery thread on a dress form; Violet Goggin ’23, in a work called, “Women through Time,” utilized spray paint and acrylics to paint the image of Sarah Cowell LeMoyne, an actress in the 1800s, on a pair of jeans in her thematic exploration of women in a different era.

On the Dyker Heights campus, we welcomed back to Poly artist and alumna Jill Sigman 85 for a six-week artist residency at Poly. Built of materials she collected from the library, the grounds, the art studios, the Athletics Department, the greenhouse and the Commons kitchen, “The Living Room” installation is now holding class sessions, speaker events, and community gatherings. Every day this “dwelling” becomes more realized with the hands and voices of students, faculty, and staff; simultaneously a sculpture, mini-stage, temporary classroom, social space, and showcase for weedy edibles, this socially engaged project brings contemporary art to the landscape while exploring communitywide questions about belonging, immigration, and the history of the land on which Poly is built. Creating a space to gather diverse members of the Poly community for discussions on a range of topics serves to build relationships with each other and to acknowledge and nurture both our physical and social environments.  

We Are the Champions
This spring was a fantastic awards season for Poly students. Our Middle School actors won First Place, Overall Superior in the the one-act festival at the NY Thespians Festival and Competition. Niko Menegatos 23 won Best Performance by a Lead Actor in the one-act festival; Katie Lopez 23 and Fiona Stephenson 23 earned ratings of “Superior” in the monologue competition—the highest rating in the state. In Upper School, Wickham Bermingham 19 and Claire Henderson 20 were nominated for their brilliant performances in Urinetown in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories respectively for the Roger Rees Awards.

Seventy-three Poly students competed in Poly Speech and Debate this season. It is the first time in Poly history that we now have more female debaters than male debaters. Noah Kaye ’19 and Daniel Fernandez ’19 were recognized, out of thousands of competing schools, as the number one ranked Public Forum debate team in the nation. This is an extraordinary accomplishment. No team has ever won both the Harvard Round Robin and Harvard Invitational in the same year. No team has ever won Emory and Harvard in the same year. We are so incredibly proud of our senior debate leaders. The PF Award of Excellence means we have now secured Poly’s 6th National Title or Championship in the last five years. Additionally, Jonah Sah ’23 and George Tiesi ’23 made it to semi-finals at the Middle School Tournament of Champions making them the 3rd place team in the entire country, and the best result of our Middle School program in Poly history.

Finally, it was my honor to help celebrate the seniors who took home the major Arts Awards this year:
  • Dance Award: Isabel Bernieri
  • Choreography Award: Nia Benjamin
  • Walter B. Clark Theatre Award: Wickham Bermingham and Georgianna Zanotto
  • Frank R. Hancock Music Award: Elena Diaz, Nick Lindsay-Abaire, and Sam Henriquez
  • Ceramics Award: Cate Albright
  • Rhode Island School of Design Award for Painting and Drawing: Leigh Hilty and Erika Williams
  • Art History Award: Isabel Bernieri
I hope this “view” provided a window for you to see Poly through my eyes, and I also invite you to follow the @polyprepARTS Facebook and Instagram pages for a behind-the-scenes look and daily celebration of all-things-arts at Poly. Getting to know students and families from Nursery through Grade 12 is at the heart of my service as Head of Arts, and I look forward to sharing more of the exciting arts opportunities with you in the days to come.

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