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Students Make Unexpected Art With Musical Instruments

Most people would think taking the strings off a guitar would defeat the purpose of the instrument, but students from Orange County have found ways to create pieces of art without strumming any strings.

Instead, these artists have been painting their acoustic canvasses as part of the Yamaha Cares Upcycle Art Project.

Guitar by artist Jennifer Harvick, for KatrinaKures/CHOC, titled, Birds of a Feather, done with mixed media, on display at the Yamaha Cares UpCycled Guitar Exhibit at the Able ARTS Work Gallery in Long Beach. Guitars and a few other musical instruments were turned into art by Anaheim Elementary School District, Boys and Girls Club of Buena Park and KatrinaKures/CHOC, and are for sale at the gallery to raise money for the non-profit organizations. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

In November, students in kindergarten to sixth grade in the Anaheim Elementary School District spent two weeks fine tuning guitars to the sound of their own creativity, creating everything from flowerpots and shelves to works of art. The district and Yamaha have had a partnership for more than five years, but this is the first time for the upcycle project using damaged instruments.

Around 20 families participated in the project along with local artists.

David Jewell, the partnerships and alliances manager for Yamaha in Buena Park, said the company wanted to do something to reduce its carbon footprint and make use of instruments destined for landfills.

Another community organization Yamaha works with, the Able ARTS Work gallery in Long Beach, provided space for the students’ creations to be put on display at its new exhibit at 2nd and PCH. On Friday, the gallery’s latest showcase was open to the public for the first time.

The exhibit is a cornucopia of color with scenes of nature and animals, cultural dedications and expressions of emotion through a variety of mixed media art pieces.

All of the guitars, cellos and violins in the gallery are available for purchase and the money raised will be donated to Anaheim Elementary’s music and art programs, the Boys & Girls Club of Buena Park and KatrinaKures, an initiative with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County to raise money for Type 1 diabetes.

“True to our mission, these creations are sold to help raise funding for art and music programs. That’s really at the core of where I started the program,” Jewell said.

Jewell, who serves on Anaheim Elementary’s creative council, noted that seven years ago it did not have any music programs. Today, there are 25 full-time music teachers to serve approximately 16,000 students throughout its  24 elementary schools.

Mark Anderson, the curriculum specialist for Anaheim Elementary’s music programs, said through community partners such as Yamaha, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), Disneyland and other community groups, its is one of few districts that offers music programs to every student from transitional kindergarten to sixth grade.

“I think really turning it back on what the students are interested in is always important – to have student-centered experiences for students to really engage in something they feel like is meaningful and that they want to learn about,” Anderson said. “There is a much bigger investment in making this relevant to them. Our teachers will respond to what the students want.”

Though the pandemic has limited in-person activities, teachers and students still have music. The teachers are providing virtual music lessons and students have access to a wide range of instruments including drums, guitars, ukuleles, keyboards, clarinets, flutes, trumpets and trombones.

“Things are starting to come around full circle as far as students starting their journey into the arts here in Anaheim continuing through high school and even on professionally and then coming back, giving back,” Anderson said.

Anderson said an local exhibition is planned later this month with a window display of more guitar art at the Anaheim MUZEO. For now, anyone interested in viewing or buying the upcycled guitars can visit the Able ARTS Work gallery at 2nd and PCH until the end of April. Check out the auction online here.

Helen Dolas, the founder of Able ARTS Work, said its goal is to serve marginalized communities in Southern California through the creative arts.

“We are so thrilled to have these partnerships continue even during this time, that we are able to come together as a community through the arts,” Dolas said. “Each one of these pieces have a beautiful message.”


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