SHOCASE aims to advance arts in Sweet Home

Audrey Caro

A new coalition formed to promote the arts in Sweet Home is looking for members.

The only requirement is an interest in the arts.

“I don’t really have any skills, I just get involved,” said Shirley Austin, one of the founding members of the Sweet Home Oregon Coalition for Artistic and Scholastic Enrichment.

SHOCASE, which seeks to promote access, appreciation and understanding of the arts, has been meeting on and off for about a year.

“We just now got the bylaws in order and formed a board to get it really going,” Austin said, adding that SHOCASE got its start in the Sweet Home Auditorium Remodel Committee, SHARC.

Austin, a 1970 Sweet Home High School graduate, was in the girls’ glee club during her years at the school.

When she returned to the high school’s stage a few years ago, she was “appalled” at the condition it was in. The curtains were ripped and there was a hole in the stage floor.

“I went to some people and said, ‘Look, we gotta do something about this,’” Austin said. “That’s kind of how we got SHARC started. Since then we’ve got enough done that we don’t need to be embarrassed by our auditorium anymore.”

While there are still some upgrades that need to be done, she said SHARC has accomplished most of what it could do.

“There’s a better venue for the performing arts and it just seemed like a natural thing to have SHARC just blend into SHOCASE because it encompasses more than just getting the auditorium updated,” Austin said. “The goals of SHOCASE encompass all of the arts.”

SHHS choir teacher Duncan Tuomi said visual art is one of the easiest forms to expose people to.

“All it takes is the reservation of space,” Tuomi said. “But that’s something that can be absorbed by anyone who is in that area simply by looking at it and for those who want to take the time to really stare at it, unpack it, they have the option to. Getting that out and publicly displayed is a wonderful option to just generate the conversation about art more.”

Tuomi attended the Feb. 27 Sweet Home City Council meeting to publicly request display space in the new City Hall.

“This opportunity would be a chance to let local artists become part of the public sphere in a way that may have hitherto been unavailable to them,” Tuomi said.

City staff and councilors were agreeable to the idea and said there will be communication between them and SHOCASE as renovation of the new City Hall, which will be located at the former U.S. Forest Service Sweet Home Ranger District Office building, 3225 Main St.

Another key goal of SHOCASE is to encourage more musical and artistic programs in the elementary schools.

“In a perfect world, funding wouldn’t be an issue but it is,” Tuomi said. “At this point a lot of it does rely upon essentially the willingness of individuals with the skills to lead those programs. I know that that is a tall order because it is a great deal of work and responsibility to open that experience.”

SHOCASE did a test run of an instrument petting zoo at the Harvest Festival last year.

“That was something that I experienced when I was child,” Tuomi said. “The Oregon Symphony did that sort of thing from time to time with interactive experiences. They’d bring the children backstage to try out some of the instruments that members of the symphony had brought specifically for the use of children. They were sanitized.”

That experience introduced Tuomi to the violin, which he played for a few years.

“It ended up not being my primary instrument in the long run, but having that opportunity as a child did expose me more to instrumental music and did make me want to pursue my musical options more,” Tuomi said.

“That introduced me to a lot of instruments I was fascinated by but I was never able to actually work. Since then, I’m able to at least make a sound on them but I’m not a skilled enough musician upon those instruments to handle them. But even so, just having the opportunity was fascinating to me when I was young and has made me want to explore more options as a musician.

That’s very much what led me down the career path that I ended up on.”

SHOCASE has student representation built into its mission.

This year, that spot is filled by SHHS senior Colby Montigue.

“I got involved last year when SHOCASE was being created,” he said.

Montigue is in choir, drama and last year was in the Art Club, which has painted sets for drama productions, he said.

“A lot of arts in Sweet Home High School are collaborative,” Montigue said. “We like to work together.”

He hopes SHOCASE can help get more funding for the arts.

“Sweet Home doesn’t have ele-mentary school music,” he said. “I find that very important in a young child’s education.”

Montigue benefited from music education at Sand Ridge Charter School, where he attended elementary school.

“I really want to see community get more invested in drama and the art club,” Montigue said. “I know people’s lives are busy, but you should always have art. It just brings a bind between math and philosophy and even language. It’s important that people get that in their core education.”

He said if the arts were a core knowledge aspect at the school there would be more attendance at performances.

“If everyone knew how much effort is put into the arts, I think people would show up out of pride,” Montigue said.

“People show up to root for (athletes) because of the effort they put into the sport. I really just want to see the arts thrive in this town.”

Montigue plans to major in music education.

“I would love to come back to Sweet Home and teach,” he said.

Tuomi, whose father is choral director at Pacific University in Forest Grove and whose mother, also a musician, is a staff member for Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, said that the arts have always been a part of his life.

“I cannot envision a life without artistic involvement,” he said. “I have never been without the arts. I have no idea what a life without the arts would even begin to look like. So I recognize that I come with that as my background and know that does alter my perspective slightly.”

He said the arts are part of a fully rounded education for students and adults.

“Whenever I’m contemplating the role of the arts in society I’m brought back to historical studies because it wasn’t really until about the mid-20th century that the arts started to be viewed as secondary in someone’s education,” Tuomi said.

“It was essentially during times of war that the chief focus was on building the future of that scientific and military strength that we wanted to be growing better engineers.”

That’s a worthy pursuit, he said, but other programs fell by the wayside.

“I harken back to the time when an artistic education was not considered optional, when someone was not considered educated unless they had a background in the arts,” Tuomi said. “If you knew math, if you knew science, you were expected to know music and visual art as well.

“If something like science and mathematics are designed to quantify and justify naturally occurring phenomena, artistic and humanitarian studies serve to qualify it. So rather than to measure or to explain, they serve to explore and expand.”

For more information or to get involved in SHOCASE, contact Sean Morgan at (503) 580-1045 or Austin at (541) 409-8957.

The group is continuing the mission of SHARC and planning the fourth SHARC Showdown talent contest for 7 p.m. March 7 in the auditorium. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. Participation is free. Registration forms are available at The New Era and Chamber of Commerce and on SHARC’s Facebook page.