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Fine Art [Close-Up / City of Fairfax Schools]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor / City School Close-Up
Cover Story, May-June 2006

ACTIVITIES FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN. RIGHT? But do your kids have the right stuff to make a career in the arts?

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up,” Pablo Picasso said.

Fortunately, students at Fairfax High are not only getting lessons in how to be great artists — and writers, musicians, actors, and dancers — they are also getting pointers on how to make a living in the field.

“When students leave my class, their skills are good enough to land them jobs as junior designers in big firms,” says Roxanne Kaylor, director of graphic arts at Fairfax Academy for Communications and the Arts. “Of course, most of our students go on to college, but it should be comforting to parents to know that kids who have a talent for art and graphics can make a good living in the business.”

Kaylor realizes that some parents worry their artistic kids won’t have a strong financial future. But she says that because Fairfax High is located in the metropolitan Washington, DC area, where hundreds of public and private companies are headquartered, her students have no trouble landing jobs when they leave the Academy.

“I have had lots of students who, right after high school, get jobs as junior designer that earn them salaries starting at $30,000,” Kaylor explains. “Most of my students go on to college, but because they leave here with a background in everything from animation to print graphics, they have an incredibly strong base.”


Though it’s true that an artist’s wage may not be as high as say, an engineer, those who have chosen to pursue a career in the arts say they simply felt they had no choice: Art was their calling.

“I always loved art, and knew I wanted to make it my career,” says FHS art department chair Neil French. “My dad [an FBI agent] wasn’t too keen on it, but my mom was artsy and I knew I’d be really happy following my dream.”

French confides that it wasn’t until he’d been teaching at FHS for a while that his dad pulled him aside and told him how proud he was of him. “That was really great to hear, but even without his blessing I would have known a career in art was right for me. It’s in my bones.”

French’s story is typical of many artists.

In fact, when City Schools Close-Up designer Michael Gibbs was a freshman at the University of Maryland, he was planning to become an architect. But after a year, he knew it wasn’t his passion. Gibbs could draw, though, and applied to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY — one of the top art schools in the country.

He was accepted, and the time spent in art school changed his life. “I had always done well in school, but suddenly, in illustration, I found my passion.”

After graduation, Gibbs landed a job in the graphics department at AT&T, and tried his hand as a freelance illustrator. His first assignment was for the National Association of Cemeteries.

“I wasn’t sure if that was a good omen or not,” he jokes, but that illustration launched his freelance career. Gibbs has won awards from the prestigious Society of Illustrators and Communications Arts magazine for work that has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers. His paintings will be featured on posters for the Virginia Opera’s upcoming 2006-2007 season.

“I knew it was an uphill battle making a living as an artist, but I didn’t let that stop me. I’ve never believed that the promise of a fat paycheck was a reason to pick a career or spend a life. I knew if I followed my heart, worked hard, and never gave up, the money would come.”

Indeed, Gibbs has achieved financial success — as has Close-Up photographer Steve Barrett, who since the 1980s has freelanced for Washingtonian Magazine, NPR, USA Today, Forbes, and Vanity Fair.

“I absolutely love my job because it feels like play more than work,” Barrett shares. “Every day is an adventure, and that’s what I want for my son, Max. Going through life doing what you love makes it worthwhile.”

As Director of Student Services at Fairfax High, Carole Kihm applauds French, Gibbs and Barrett for following their instincts, and encourages her students to pick colleges, and careers, they think will not only earn them a good living — but, ultimately, will make them happy.

“Finding the right career isn’t easy,” she realizes, “but it can be especially stressful for a student if their parents want them to go in one direction, and they want to go in another. In the end, I advise students to follow their passion. If for some reason they choose not to go into the field they yearn for, such as the arts, the good news is that those disciplines make great hobbies.”


Making art, theater, or music a passionate hobby is sometimes as good as having a full-time job in the field, says Tomoko Azuma, executive director of the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras.

“I know a lot of musicians who were in the youth orchestra as kids, then went on to become successful doctors, lawyers, and business executives and on the weekend they play in an ensemble or even a rock band,” she says. “They haven’t given up their love for performing. They have found a way to have it all.”

Plus, she adds, being a patron of the arts — be it orchestra, opera, symphony, theater or a local band — is also incredibly important.

“Where would we be if we had performers but no one in the audience? Our goal at the AYP is to not only turn out a generation of musicians, but a generation of patrons of the arts, too.”


In the spirit of supporting the next generation of artists, City of Fairfax officials have named the 2006 Spotlight on the Arts program: “A Celebration of Youth.”

The spring festival was kicked off on April 21 at a black tie affair that featured performances by students in the American Youth Philharmonic brass ensemble, F/X Players from the FHS drama department, the City of Fairfax Band’s brass and percussion Ensemble, and the Fairfax Choral Society.

“We have so many talented youths in our area,” says Spotlight’s Executive Director Jo Ormesher. “We were glad to be able to showcase all that incredible talent at the kick off.”


More Close-Up / Fairfax City Schools Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.