View On The Arts

Local Students Take Over Mesquite Fine Arts Gallery!

by Debbi Swanson Patrick


courtesy of Natalie Halladay
courtesy of Natalie Halladay

Art and children. They go together like paint and brush. Or paint and fingers, for that matter. Kids can’t help but want to express themselves in whatever medium they fancy. Mad, wonderful spreading of color to represent their world is a compelling purpose. And thankfully, it is alive and well in Mesquite.


In May, the Mesquite Fine Arts Gallery, run by the Virgin Valley Artists Association (VVAA) will once again be filled with art from hundreds of children from elementary school through high school and some who are homeschooled. They can’t wait to see their masterpieces on the walls of a real art gallery. The VVAA donates money to the art classes for supplies.


Teacher and Art Specialist, Sara O’Neal, from Joseph L. Bowler Elementary, says she has even heard the kids say, “We’re gonna be in a museum!” O’Neal says, “We don’t have as many opportunities as big cities, so this is a big deal for them.”


Her one hundred and fifty participants, selected from the entire student body from kindergarten through fifth grade will show paintings, drawings, masks, and collages. Last year they showed sculptures. And when the show is over, they get to take their art home, along with a certificate of participation suitable for framing. “We’re working on their projects now. As a teacher, I love seeing how the students progress as they grow,” said O’Neal.


This is one of the most rewarding exhibits each year at the Gallery. “It’s a joy to walk into the gallery and see the walls literally covered in art by these kids,” says VVAA President Kat Cole. The photos of past events show the packed gallery. “There’s nothing better than to see the students’ excitement as they’re acknowledged, especially in the company of their parents.”


courtesy of the Mesquite Fine Arts Center (1)
courtesy of the Mesquite Fine Arts Center

Teacher Lori Raines of Virgin Valley Elementary School says, “The students talk about the show all year long, and frequently ask if the current project is going to be in the art show. On the night of the Artist Reception, the kids come dressed in their Sunday best. They show off their work to family and friends, their faces just beaming with pride and sunshine. They feel it is an honor to be included in the show, and I see them working to that end all year.” From the seven hundred students in her school, one hundred and fifty to two hundred pieces are selected, including a variety of two and three dimensional pieces.  “It has been my honor and privilege to facilitate my students’ participation in this art show,” adds Raines.


Art teacher Natalie Halladay, of Charles Arthur Hughes Middle School, has been part of the Student Art Month for eleven years. This year, her students are creating 3D art. “I’m all about recycling and repurposing stuff. So this year, the kids made self portraits on old school clocks among their projects.”


Halladay says her middle school students are different than elementary or high school students. “They’re in their insecure years, so I teach in an art therapy environment. They’re all safe here to depict whatever issues they’re experiencing. Their self-reflection time is just between us. There’s no judging others as they understand everyone’s art has a deeper meaning. I work to make sure they’re all secure in their talent when they graduate.”


Coming in new this year is art and photo teacher, Tyler Roylance from Virgin Valley High School. He is a first year teacher, having just graduated from BYU-Idaho.  (Tyler likes to still call it Ricks College just for fun).


“I love the gallery,” says Roylance. “With so many retired people here, they bring their life experiences to their art. And I try to teach my kids all kinds of art, not just drawing and painting.” He has introduced them to wax, pens, markers, gouache and ink, and more.


courtesy of the Mesquite Fine Arts Center
courtesy of the Mesquite Fine Arts Center

Critiquing art is also a part of art life, so that experience is given to participating high school students, many of whom have participated multiple times in the gallery program. Roylance agrees that this opportunity to learn how to communicate about art will be a good skill, especially if they continue with art as adults when they will need to write about their own art, and apply for grants and scholarships.


“Art is the mark of a civilization,” is painted on the outside wall of the gallery with symbols from ancient cave paintings. Today’s students are commenting on how they see their world, just like the ancients painted their world on cave or rock walls.


The Eureka Hotel and Casino sponsors Student Art Month. The show runs May 1-27 with the reception for families and the public on May 25 from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. For more information visit


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