Linda Knoll, far right, with other Stanislaus County “Outstanding Women.”

Our education coordinator, Linda Knoll was recently awarded “Outstanding Woman of Stanislaus County” by the Stanislaus Commission on Women. The following is her acceptance speech, given Saturday, March 11. It describes what the CLASS program does, as well as who is to thank for making it all work. For more information about how you can bring CLASS to your school, email Linda at class.ccaa@gmail.com

I’m a teaching artist. I have a professional art practice. And I teach what I am passionate about: making art and having a voice through my work. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how much I can do in just one hour,  coming into classrooms from the outside as an “expert.”

When I visit a classroom, I look for that kid whose desk is set apart. The one who blurts out, who gets told, “you won’t have art if you can’t behave.” They’re the ones I have to tell, “just keep trying”, or, “you can do it!” at least 10 times. And most times, they make the most amazing art. These are students who’ve said, after making a successful art project, “I’ve never been good at anything before.”

There are the kids who shout excitedly “I made brown!” after stirring their plate of primary color paints into an ooze of grayish muck. Or the kid in the hallway who runs up with a hug and says “Your’e the best art teacher” and I know I’m their only art teacher. Or the one who asks “are you a famous artist?” and I have to admit, no, not yet.

Thank you to all the people who make it possible to do what we do….

Thank you to Julie Hawkins, who over the last 3 years has been SO generous with her time and enthusiasm for my ever expanding plans. She’s been an ear for new ideas, a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on.

Thank you to my family. My dad has cut thousands of pieces of wire for classroom sculpture projects, and given up half the garage to store my art supplies. My sister, a kindergarten teacher, keeps me grounded. My daughter keeps me excited by looking at my photos of kids’ projects and hearing about my challenges with children and messy supplies. My mom, who passed away about 18 months ago, knew this was what I needed to do.

Thank you to my team of teaching artists who put up with crazy schedules and sometimes crazier ideas, and love being with kids and sharing their art and their excitement for creativity. Through their patience and positivity, I see how we are affecting students. They send me pictures of students’ work, and tell stories about the kids in their classrooms. Like the student who just arrived from Syria with no English, but she can draw with the best of them. Or the autistic student who just wants to do the work all by himself, and when he’s allowed, does it wonderfully.

Thank you to the Central California Art Association for their moral and financial support. CCAA is a group of artists, supporters and friends who volunteer to run one of the finest art galleries in Modesto, the Mistlin Gallery. Members contribute time and talent to put on 10 shows per year and provide classes for all ages.

After the Stanislaus Arts Council’s “STARS” program stopped providing visual art classes, the folks at CCAA stepped in to create our CLASS program — Community Liaison for Art in Stanislaus Schools –- and asked if I’d like to take charge. So began the work of reaching out to schools to let them know about us. Four years ago, it was just myself and one other teacher, and now I coordinate 18 teaching artists. In just the past year, we have visited more than 30 schools in 7 school districts, touching the lives of more than 12,000 students.

Thank you to the teachers who have made room for me and my team in their classrooms. Teachers work SOOO hard. And they deal with “that kid” for so many more hours than I do.

Thanks to the administrators who support the idea of art education with their time and school budgets. One principal, in particular, has secured thousands of dollars in outside contributions so that every child in her school has had this opportunity for the last 3 years. And an entire district administration that has committed to bring our art classes to every Kindergarten through 6th grade student with district funds. These people believe art really does make a difference to children.

Thank you to the parents whose children we serve. Who sometimes have to wash the paint or clay out of their clothes. I overheard a frustrated parent in the hall one day, saying “the only time my kid wants to come is school is on art day.” My heart swelled. Even though I really believe kids should be excited to come to school EVERY day.

Visual art is a window to the world. It gives voice to the students who are often unheard. Put a paintbrush in the hand of a child who doesn’t have even a pencil or crayons at home, and you’ll quickly see why art is called the universal language.

SO, in the long term, I’d like our program to keep expanding. We’d like to share hands-on experiences with more students… especially those who don’t typically have access to arts. Children need to participate, not just watch. To make this happen, we depend on the generosity of the community, schools and families who help CCAA keep its doors open. We all need to speak up and say, YES, the arts are important.