Community urges CRA to continue art funding

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By Kellie Parkin

At a special meeting Monday evening, the Community Redevelopment Agency adopted the 2009-10 budget and heard petitions from community members, students and school personnel for the continued funding of the Art Teacher Grant for the Cedar Key School Art Program.

The CRA grant is set to expire in June. In its third year, the grant has paid the salary for Debby Manansala who teaches art to all CKS students, kindergarten through high school. It has also funded the purchasing of art supplies and needed materials.

CKS students Taryn Epperson and Miranda Fanelli told the Board about how much the art program has meant to them. “I have learned that art is much more than just painting pictures on canvas,” said Epperson, who is in seventh-grade. “It’s music and history. Art is very important and I hope you will continue to sponsor this wonderful program for three more years.”

“Speaking as a student of 10 years in Cedar Key, I have felt cheated in the past that there was not an art teacher to guide me and many others in their passion for art,” said Fanelli, a tenth-grade student. “We need art in our school because our community is based on an artist lifestyle. Ms. Manny takes our art and puts it in the school office, the library, art shows, and the local Key-Hole. She wants to make our artwork public to encourage our talent. I think keeping art in our school is essential in molding us into well-rounded students that too, one day, will be leaders in Cedar Key.”

Janet Cook also addressed the board emphasizing the success of the art program thus far. “She’s helped create really good kids and we’re going to have really good citizens because of it,” she said. “If your mission was to hire an art teacher whose services and talents would benefit both the classroom and the community, your investment in Debby Manansala was as bountiful as it was wise,” Cook wrote in prepared remarks. She said that Manasala’s impact has been felt throughout the community. “Of special note, was how Mr. Manasala brought the community to the classroom and lent her talents to the community.”

The CRA grant mandated that the teacher hired for the art program become integrated into the community by establishing residency on the island and participating in community events.

Manansala moved to Cedar Key and has been active in the community, according to Cook. In addition to teaching during the school year, she has mounted annual student art shows at the Cedar Key Arts Center and the Old Florida Celebration of the Arts Festival as well as ongoing student exhibitions in the library and City Hall. She has also coordinated the CKAC summer arts program.

Additionally, Manansala has made her presence felt in the community by making a CLAMerica banner for the city to use each year and coordinating the painting of photo boards. She personally purchased a kiln to fire CKS student clay work and last March won first place for her photograph, “Pelican on Post” in the Cedar Key Arts Center Photography Exhibit.

Prior to Manansala’s hire, the high school fine arts requirement was received through a drama course taught by an English teacher, Principal Ice said. Now that teacher can provide AP English and Honors English courses, giving students more course options. She also emphasized that participation in the arts leads to academic success. Students develop problem-solving abilities and also achieve a 21 percent increase above the national average in mathematics by participating in the arts.

Ice said that the school is able to take over funding art supplies but asked that the CRA continue to fund the teacher salary.

Due to legislation to provide enhanced staffing formula to isolated rural schools spearheaded by then State Representative Gene Hodges, CKS has one teacher per grade K through 6 and one teacher per subject in the middle and high school. According to the formula, however, CKS has more teachers than funding calls for, thus making it impossible for the district to fund an art teacher position, Ice said.

Mayor Sue Colson, acting as Chair of the CRA Board, encouraged fellow members to commit to searching for the funding, whether through grants or partnerships with other agencies.

“We have a commitment to make that we will try to find some sort of solution to this.”

All five members agreed to support an effort to find the monies to continue the art grant. The CRA board is composed of city commissioners Gene Hodges, Scott Dennison, Pat O’Neal, Heath Davis, and Sue Colson.

“I love what I do. I love art,” Manansala told the board. “I teach art with a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “But I don’t go easy on them. You’ve heard them say this is one of their tougher classes. It’s not art play. It’s art work.”