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Dynasty: Grand Island Chalk Walk team preps for Lewiston Art Festival

Tue, Aug 8th 2017 07:00 am
From left, Tess Lariviere, Julie Klein and Kelsey Mahoney of Grand Island High School practice a chalk mural Monday in preparation for the Chalk Walk competition at the Lewiston Art Festival. GIHS is the two-time defending champions of the event. (Photo by Larry Austin)
From left, Tess Lariviere, Julie Klein and Kelsey Mahoney of Grand Island High School practice a chalk mural Monday in preparation for the Chalk Walk competition at the Lewiston Art Festival. GIHS is the two-time defending champions of the event. (Photo by Larry Austin)
GIHS wins ribbon 18 of 20 years
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Grand Island High School art teacher Megan Gaiek is becoming the Gene Masters of art competitions for her school.
Even Masters, the late GIHS physical education teacher who was one of the winningest football and baseball coaches in Western New York history, would envy Gaiek's record. Gaiek, the advisor to the schools Chalk Walk team at the Lewiston Art Festival, said this week that the school has taken home a top-three ribbon from the Chalk Walk 18 of the 20 years she's taken a team.
The GIHS trio of Julie Klein, Kelsey Mahoney and Tess Lariviere will try to earn another ribbon, and a blue ribbon for the third year in a row, when the Chalk Walk takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 12 on Center Street in the Village of Lewiston.
Gaiek said 18 ribbons in 20 years is "a pretty good track record." That doesn't count the years, like three years ago, when GIHS won the People's Choice Award, voted on not by art judges, but by patrons of the Art Festival who watch the high school artists create rectangular chalk murals on the street.
Gaiek leaves the record book to other people. ("If you ask my husband, he would tell you. He just spurts it out right away. He's like your biggest team mascot, I would say.") But she knows what goes into selecting a good three-artist team: Watch the prospective student's skill level, talk to the other art teachers, and see who is interested to get a feel for how committed they are.
The GIHS team had practiced five times so far, with some artwork taking place under conditions like Monday's practice, in near 90 degree heat in the back parking lot of the high school.
"Because it is a commitment during the summertime, working around schedules, coming in here and sitting on this very hot pavement to work," Gaiek said. "You've got to find the kid that works well with other kids too."
Talent helps too, as Gaiek was quick to point out all three artists who will represent Grand Island next Saturday received a 5, the top grade, on their Advanced Placement Art class.
"Today's not fun. Today I'm a little scrambled," she said during practice Monday. Her classroom computer wasn't working, she forgot the wet towels, and there was road construction on her drive to school.
Grand Island High School art teacher Megan Gaiek, left, talks to student Tess Lariviere about the mural the GIHS team will draw during the Chalk Walk at the Lewiston Art Festival Aug. 12. The GIHS Chalk Walk team held a practice session Monday. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Klein was a member of last year's winning team, and Mahoney was on the winning team two years ago. She missed last year only because of a family vacation.
"The timing didn't work out, but, yeah, I would have done it all years," Mahoney said of Chalk Walk. "It's really fun. It's a great way to do art over the summer because sometimes it gets a little hard to fit that in."
Klein gets "paid" to do art now, working for the Town of Grand Island Recreation Department and teaching art to kids.
Mahoney will go to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry near Syracuse in the fall, but will continue with art, she said. Klein is going to SUNY Buffalo State for fashion and textile technology. Lariviere will return for her senior year at GIHS.
Each artist draws to her strengths. Gaiek said, "They can put their egos aside" when creating a work of art, normally a solo endeavor.
"We're kind of like, I do the face here, but then Kelsey's going to do the thumb, because I don't do hands," Klein said, laughing. "And then I do the ear on that one because Tess doesn't like drawing ears."
Mahoney had to step up at Chalk Walk two years ago and draw a side of a coin that she hadn't practiced. Her teammate, who had fallen behind schedule in the time-limited event, had to teach her how to draw the coin and hope for the best.
"In that sense, that's something that you wouldn't see necessarily in a regular type of setting where you're just doing a drawing. Here, it's a little more urgent to finish on time," Gaiek said.
This year's theme is "Interconnectedness." With secretiveness Bill Belichick would appreciate, Gaiek won't allow disclosure of the GIHS mural, but it is entirely student designed.
Chalk Walk designs in the past required some tweaking, "but not this time," the teacher said.
"Deep," Gaiek described it. "All them. They came to me. I gave them the parameter. I told them 'Here's the thing. I said ... it has to be in a rectangle form. I go, 'You guys know your strengths. OK? Go.' They met a couple times outside of class time. I walked in and they handed me a sketch over here, and I'm like, 'OK, let's do it.'"
The question arises: Why should schools have competition in art?
"I think you get to see people or students work on a different level when you have competition or a goal for placement," Gaiek said. "So you see them push themselves a little bit more, and especially with this because it's a team, so it's kind of like a sport but it's a team effort."

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