Welcome back students!

It was good to have the Monson Arts High School students back in action after winter break on January 9th. To re-engage our creatives we hosted noted outdoor writer, guide, journalist, and tv presenter Aislinn Sarnaki.

Both student visual artists and writers met at the Monson Arts Tenney House where Aislinn gave a presentation about how she became a creative professional. Sarnaki began by writing for a newspaper after college, starting as a feature writer in arts and culture before eventually getting into the outdoor section partly because they didn’t have female writers. This eventually led to photography and videography work and she became noted for doing one-minute outdoor videos once a week. For the students it was a lesson on being able to improvise new skills and also finding connections between various genres of creative work. Aislinn’s main mantra was that “it’s not luck, it’s being consistent.” Additionally, students got to hear of an example of someone evolving their skills which helped create new opportunities as Aislinn does work with Bangor Daily News, Maine Public Radio, University of Maine, and PBS.

After the presentation we took students outside for a short (and cold!) nature hike in the woods with Aislinn pointing out different animal tracks, types of mushrooms on bark and fallen logs, pine needles and their smells, and encouraging students to use all their senses to describe the landscape and what they were experiencing. When students returned back inside, Sarnaki asked students to write down what they saw to help develop a story, engaging and challenging students to dig into the fresh memory and start to form a narrative to find purpose in their story thus mimicking the type of work that she does in writing her outdoor stories. 

Welcoming students back with this sort of teacher experience was another way for us to not only show the very real type of work that is out there for them as adults but to help show that, if they have a vision for their future work, they can create their destiny through focus and hard work.


For the second class back after Christmas Break the writers had a playwriting class featuring Paul Birtwistle, a Bennington College graduate, who works in theater in NYC doing props and production, among other varied work and is our writing teacher Dawn Potter’s son. In this very engaging class, students took turns pairing off with different reading partners as they read a series of excerpts from seven plays. Between these readings Dawn and Paul debriefed about the plays which led to discussions where students talked about what they experienced reading as the characters. One of the students talked about their experience as an actor at their school and how they dealt with making the dialogue and scene more real. Additionally, Paul broke down both the content and the form of each play, comparing the writing and the story itself to the previous play. He also talked about how the writer was the first person to touch the play but that they wouldn’t be the last.

Students then made the transition from readers to writers, again pairing off to develop a short play scene using a series of prompts. After these short writing collaborations, students then read their plays back to the rest of the cohort before a teacher led discussion where students talked about how writing in a partnership was challenging yet created a lot of energy, feeding off each others lines to create a story and how it forced them to develop their character more immediately. This lively class really took the student writers out of their comfort zone, forcing them to think, speak, and write spontaneously while showing them how dynamic and layered playwriting can be.  

The report from Alan Bray’s visual arts class was brief but the photos of their work show they’ve been quite busy with their ongoing forays into 3-dimensional art design. Additionally, they again got to visit the studios of current Monson Arts Residents, this time it was fresco artist Barbara Sullivan and Swedish born Irish landscape painter Cecila Danell. These studio visits are an essential part of the Monson Arts Visual Arts program, truly opening the students eyes not just on the different works of art being made but to the living, breathing artist who is actively pursuing their creative dreams. It is vital for high school students to interact with adults in their studios while these artists are in the midst of creating. For the Monson Arts students to witness this process expands what is possible in their minds and impresses upon them a structure that they can draw from to construct their own future studio.