The Ely Times

The White Pine Children’s Art Festival has been providing a week-long arts education every summer for the last 10 years.

This week children from White Pine County, and some from as far as California, Utah, Idaho and across Nevada, are benefiting from this five-day foray into art, dance, music, writing, theater, STEAM, culinary arts, and wholesome creative expression.

All the efforts and talents of these students, volunteers, teachers, and organizers will be on display at White Pine High School this Friday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m.  

Everyone is invited to view the gallery of exhibits and musical performances, and celebrate 10 years of artistic achievements and collective creativity.  

For the last decade, the WPCAF has remained a completely volunteer and donation run program, with the single goal of providing exposure to the arts for all K – 8th grade children in our remote and rural location. 

Sadly, it has been rumored that this is to be the final year for the program. After 10 years, Director Amy Sorensen and Assistant Director, Megan Van Tassel, founding tour-de-forces that helped bring the festival to life, are leaving the organization. 

This year’s White Pine Children’s Arts Festival is their last.

Ten years ago, Ely became home to Sorensen and her family. When she and her children arrived they discovered a community missing something important. Creative educational opportunities for younger students.  

Looking for an outlet to express themselves, the Sorensens remembered attending wickedly expensive, two-week arts festivals in Utah. With art and artistic programs all but gone from White Pine area schools, save that of band and theater in high school, Sorensen saw a serious educational need.  

“There was no art, there was no music, there was nothing,” she said. “There was however, some new moms; we all moved here around the same time and we talked about trying out what they did in Utah.”  

That group of parents was armed only with an idea, but with minor adjustments to the model, one week instead of two, and with the objective of getting community sponsors to reduce the overall cost for children who wanted to attend, Sorensen, the teachers, and all of the volunteers managed to bring their creative dreams to fruition.

Reflecting on how it all started and what it has become, Sorensen recounts the festival’s growth. 

“We knew our community and we wanted to make it something that everyone could come to, we wanted to keep the prices low and we’ve managed to keep them the same price all ten years,” she said. “That has been mainly because of our amazing sponsors. Our sponsors have been phenomenal.”  

This year in fact, after eight years of planning, sponsors, The Ely Lions and the Rotary Club, donated scholarships, now benefiting 26 students.

“We’re really excited about the scholarship part of this year, that’s almost $1,000 worth of scholarships,” Sorensen said. “That’s what this is all about; we want to make sure every child in our community that wants to be a part of this, can be a part of it.  We’re so excited the local school principals partnered with us and identified students that would really benefit.”   

Using art education, the WPCAF gives students a safe and supportive environment to harness their creative self-expression, and practice something they may learn to master in the future.

With White Pine School District providing buses, supplies and the venue, an entire generation of children has been provided opportunities over these last ten years to delve into creative games, projects, and activities, challenging their thinking, developing their collaborative and cooperative skills, as well as providing cognitive development in areas like eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills. 

A different theme every year, the inspiration for the week’s artistic endeavors is “Alladdin.’’

Sorensen said, “With that, there is a little bit of bling. We decided we’re going to entertain and give them something different and exciting. So, it’s Ely’s version of Middle-East Bling. It’s a happy, fun energy.”  

While Arabian nights are directing the student’s creative focus, Sorensen is most excited about Friday night’s exhibition.

“For me, that’s the best part, the big payoff; to see the families come together to celebrate a week of doing art and looking at their kid’s work,” she said. “They’re sharing the excitement and that time together, outside of school and grades, just celebrating our community’s kids and their art.”  

Themes and exhibitions aside, there is something here for every student, whether they are four years old or fourteen.  

This year’s advanced painting class is carrying on the tradition of Ely’s murals and painting the whole side of DEN Elementary school, with the help of local artist Janet Ingalls doing the general layout, and the students doing the painting.  

Advanced Lego art classes, baking and decorating, tap and ballet, musical theater, sensory arts and crafts, and ukulele are a few of the options to help young people develop holistically.  

“This generation wants everything they do to be perfect the first time, but art doesn’t come out perfectly the first time, nothing in life goes the right way the first time we do it,” Sorensen said. “It takes doing anything 10,000 hours to become proficient at something. That’s why teaching art is important, to help these kids learn next-step thinking and how to go back and change it to what they envisioned.”  

Watching these students it’s easy to see they are learning more than simple artistic lessons, they are gaining life skills that will benefit and contribute to their overall success for years to come.

 Sorensen is quick to point out the board members and community as a whole has made the WPCAF what it is today. She also points to another teacher right alongside her for the last 10 years, lending to the student’s successes,  Megan Van Tassel.  In her 10-year role as a board member and acting assistant director, Van Tassel has ensured the program and exhibition has been impactful for every child, parent and participant, 

“I’ve been in charge of the music and dance and the exhibition all 10 years, and Amy’s loyal sidekick as she does the lion’s share of the work,” Van Tassel said. ‘My kids grew up taking these classes and have developed into helping and volunteering.  

“After 10 years I’m encouraging the festival to give some new people a turn while I continue teaching choir for the district and pursuing my teaching degree. We’ve built this into something we would want to continue, since it is such a beneficial service for the community.”  

The community can see just how impactful these efforts are this Friday evening as an unofficial kick off to Arts in the Park weekend.

Friday night’s exhibition will be the final culmination of this year’s White Pine Children’s Arts Festival, but as we celebrate the achievements of our local young artists, we can also celebrate Sorensen, Van Tassel, the teachers, volunteers, and sponsors that have stepped up year after year to provide profoundly important opportunities for creative and artistic expression for Ely, White Pine, and Nevada’s children.  

Another opportunity to cheer is that within the last week there has been confirmation there will be a next year for the WPCAF.  

Picking up the mantle for the future of the festival are Debi and Curt Nelson.

“We are brand new to the area and are thrilled to be involved and we were a little apprehensive to follow in Amy’s footsteps, but the level of support from great people who have stepped up has been terrific,” Debi Nelson said. “This is an amazing festival that Amy and Megan have built and it should not go away that is why Curt and I decided to take it on.”  

Next year will be the first year under these new directors and Sorensen and Van Tassel are eager to relax while watching where this new fresh visions will take the program and see it growing in new ways.  

With anything involving the education of children, it certainly takes a village. If the last 10 years here in Ely are any indication, the Nelsons and the WPCAF will all be in good creative company.  

Come out Friday night and support the White Pine Arts Festival.  And remember to always support your local artists.