Fine arts: Appreciation will last a life time
By Beth Volpert
Support for the arts is of great importance, but when you are at the helm of one of the largest fine arts programs, support is just the beginning. A good leader must also have the experience to guide students and educators for the best possible results.
Robert Andrews is a career musician and educator. He has served as band director at South Gwinnett and Dacula High Schools in Gwinnett County and served for several years in Jeff Davis and Fayette Counties. Andrews took on the position of GCPS Curriculum Director for Fine Arts in 2000. “I have had a good range of experience,” says Andrews. “The spectrum of different students and ages from K-12 has shown me that fine arts education should begin with early exposure to the arts which develops their talents and skills they grow.”
Fine Arts in Gwinnett includes dance, instrumental and choral music, theatre arts, and visual arts. Within each department, there are a host of specialties with instructors who have real world experience. We have students who do a phenomenal job in a variety of artistic endeavors and performances,” says Andrews.
The National Association of Music Educators and other education associations have declared March “Music in our Schools Month”. For Gwinnett, music education enjoys a great deal of support and reaches out from the schools to the community and back again with a variety of performance offerings. “Musically, GCPS students compete nationally and internationally in places like the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago where Gwinnett orchestras and percussion ensembles have received special performance invitations at this world renowned music education conference attended by music educators from all states and thirty countries.”
Gwinnett County is also home to an award winning visual arts program. “The high school visual art students' work is featured at prestigious exhibits such as the All State Art Symposium,” says Andrews. According to the director, many Gwinnett art students win regional and national awards for their artwork in the Scholastic Art Competition.
The Dance and Theater programs regularly find success in awards, but the biggest satisfaction comes from entertaining peers and the community. “I say that the best ticket in town is found at our local high school theaters,” says Andrews with pride. “Our productions are well worth watching and are often $7 or less; where else can you find that kind of value?” Recently, Andrews was tapped to introduce special guests from the Atlanta Opera who performed with choral and music students from Archer, Dacula and Grayson high schools in Mozart’s Requiem. The performance was well-attended and comments from parents, peers and the community ranged from tears to exuberance at the level of skill and ability from high school students.
While Mr. Andrews is certainly a musician at heart, he has a great deal of respect and appreciation for all the art forms that are currently a part of the curriculum. He wonders at the newer technology and finds it fascinating to see the amazing visual creations that come from students who are provided with the means to integrate today’s technology into award-winning art. “I am the oldest curriculum director among my counterparts,” laughs Andrews. “As long we continue to have a successful program, I want to be a part of it.” The key to having a successful program appears to be in knowing what has worked in the past and being open to the future of the arts. “I am more than proud of the work that we produce here in the county,” says Andrews. “Having the support of our superintendent, The Gwinnett County Board of Education, parents, students and the community is important; but it all begins with the teacher in the classroom.”
Robert Andrews’ philosophy that fine art education should begin at a very early age and continue throughout a student’s life is echoed in his own life. He has played trumpet in his church orchestra for many years and thinks that it is important to continue to grow as a musician. He is also not one to follow a beaten path in exploring things new or old as viable means of expression. His new instrument of choice? Bagpipes. “I am taking lessons now and I have found that I really like playing the bagpipes.” Keeping his finger on the pulse on the newest graphic and technological advances has its place, but for Mr. Robert Andrews, learning to play a new instrument satisfies his own philosophy that if you begin early, regardless of the art form, the appreciation will last a lifetime.