Visual arts education in Smiths Station Elementary Schools


By Sarah West

Never is a strong word. A word that compels one to break boundaries, expand borders and reach farther than, as “never” implies, has ever been done before. I had only made efforts to do what I believed in, without ever knowing how far the path might take me. I hadn’t realized that there would be people encountered along the way that would make this story far more than mine alone. It has become a story belonging to a community of people who see things differently, and upon this we seem to agree.
I sat in the board room looking at the charts before me, while listening to educators, health professionals and academicians share their thoughts, concerns and potential solutions to matters related to their schools. When the topic of art education came up, I admittedly held my breath, knowing quite well that this hasn’t been a top-ranking priority for schools in my community. Aware that even the most privileged children I encounter can seldom seem to recall their first or last trip to a museum or cultural establishment, I felt terrified and concerned, wondering if this dream of making art classes available to every school in one city would find favor among the other members when the concept was presented. If there were any, I’m not aware of a single objection. The following weeks would be agonizing as I waited for the final word. Then the message came, “ART IN SCHOOLS has been approved for all Smiths Station and Salem sixth-grade classes.”
On the first Monday in October, another page will be added to local history. Never before has an academic fine arts educational program for visual arts been provided to every elementary school in the Smiths Station area. This Monday, the word “never” will no longer relate to the topic of art in education throughout Smiths Station. In a rural community turned city along the railroad tracks, history is made through connections bringing together people who believe in the possibilities.
ART IN SCHOOLS, a program made possible through collaborations between the gallery and the Lee County Board of Education, will prioritize academic visual arts in education through classes made available to every sixth grade student as part of their current school year 2019-2020. It is to the credit of local and state government leaders and educators who have chosen to recognize the value and importance of arts in education that the provision of this program is realized.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of cultural arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation and conservation advocate, activist and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on regional narrative painting. She is the founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, a center for cultural arts, Smiths Station’s premier fine arts destination. She is the appointed official artist to the city of Smiths Station, a Lee County syndicated columnist and the director of her art center’s Cultural Arts Outreach Initiative, which partners with local schools to make the arts accessible to all. She also serves a chief curator to the City of Smiths Station, City Hall Art Galleries. She is a founding member of the Smiths Station Historic Commission. She is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board-Cary Center, Auburn University College of Human Science. She is an elected member of the Society of Illustrators- NYC. She mentors art students of every age through weekly classes at her studio located in the heart of Smiths Station, Alabama. To learn more about her work and activism, visit


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