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SMOCA Exhibit By Art Teachers, Kids Remembers 'Mrs. Radio'

art class with artwork
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Students who helped with the exhibit pose in front of their collaborative artwork at Cochise Elementary School.

This is a story about an art exhibit. It began simply — an art teacher was commissioned by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art to exhibit her student’s work. But after she passed away unexpectedly, it evolved into a multi-school project and became an outlet for students and teachers to remember her through art.

“I probably called Ms. Vredevoogd ‘Ms. Radio’ a couple times,” fifth-grader Samantha Hogue said.

Her classmate, Sophia Roe, agreed.

“In the younger grades, I did, but then eventually I learned it was Ms. Vredevoogd,” Roe said.

They attend Pima Elementary School. They share the same art teacher with all the students here, kindergarten through fifth … and until last year, that art teacher was Allison Vredevoogd.

“We did a lot of art projects, ever since kindergarten I’ve done so many,” Roe said.

“She loved recycling,” Hogue said. “And she would always surprise us on what we would do next.”

“I would describe her as a very, in a positive way, aggressive person. She lived with gusto,” said Lauren Threet, who teaches art in the same district at Cochise Elementary School.

She said in her eight years teaching here, she became really close with Vredevoogd.

“Very caring, very loyal, strong person, for sure,” Threet said. “And I was drawn to that.”

So, too, were other people. Last year, SMOCA reached out to Vredevoogd. They wanted her to work with her students on an exhibit inspired by contemporary artists.

“I could tell right away she was excited about it,” Threet said. “I didn’t know where her brain was at with it, but I knew that she was going at it full speed.”

Then the plans came to a halt.

“She passed away unexpectedly, I would say a couple of weeks before the end of last school year. And that’s where this began,” Threet said.

Last Wednesday, Threet taught her third-graders. Aiden Martinez and his table mates were spelling out how they feel about art class with dark green clay.

“We’re going to make ‘art is fun’ with the clay,” Martinez said.

“And then do you just destroy it at the end, you just take it all apart and put it in a ball?” I asked him.

“Yeah. It’s pretty easy after that,” he said, laughing.

But hanging on the wall behind them is something more permanent. A huge, multicolored, three-dimensional artwork for a new version of the SMOCA exhibit. Threet said it’s a tribute to Vredevoogd, who she knew as Allison.

“The night after Allison’s memorial, I had a dream about this piece of artwork, right here on the wall next to me now, which is a really surreal experience,” she said.

In the dream, people were walking up to the piece and sticking notes inside it.

“And I had this rush of emotions, like they’re writing love notes to Allison, I have to do this.”

Her students helped her bring the dream to life with recycled paper towel rolls to house the notes. The brown rolls were transformed into a rainbow of color. Juliana Iannacone helped make the purple section. She said a rainbow makes sense.

“Because after a rainy day they sometimes appear. Like when it’s all rainy, some people get kind of sad. But then when the rainbow comes out it makes people happy,” she said.

This rainbow will come out in the SMOCA exhibit, along with eight other works of art from the Scottsdale Unified School District.

“There’s only nine pieces, but they’re huge!” exhibit curator Laura Hales said.

She explained lots and lots of little hands were involved in creating the different pieces, some belonging to kids who didn’t even know Vredevoogd, but were inspired by their own teachers.

“It’s that time of day for a student to be able to be themselves and to express themselves, and an art teacher who can influence you to do that is an amazing impact on someone’s life,” Hales said.

The exhibit remembers Vredevoogd as a teacher and a friend, but also shows her impact reverberates, in other art classes, with other kids — whether they’re making something to display in an exhibit or to display on the classroom table until the bell rings.

“It says art is cool, art is fun, art is the best,” Martinez read aloud after finishing his clay project.

“And she made art fun and taught a lot about how art just takes away your worries and it’s fun and it says things that words can’t say,” said Roe of her former art teacher.

The exhibit is called “ For Mrs. Radio.” It opens Saturday.  

Annika Cline was a producer for KJZZ's The Show from 2014 to 2019.