Celebration of art, community children, life of alum

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“A Celebration of Art” is an annual festival that celebrates the life of John Iyoya ’83. The Palmer exhibit debuts over break and includes works from various Poughkeepsie grade and middle schools. Photo courtesy of Vassar College

Children, education and art are fundamental posterities and essential parts of Vassar’s foundation. Out of both love and celebration, John Iyoya ’83 highlighted these intersections. In return, his classmates and many at the Col­lege celebrate them as part of an annual festival, which consists of an art exhibition and prize winner. The “John Iyoya Prize” is awarded to a student who embodies Iyoya’s views towards education and children.

Sponsored by the Department of Education and featuring the artwork of students from par­ticipating schools, “A Celebration of Art” is an annual event held in memory of Iyoya, who had a love for children and a formidable sense of creativity.

Administrative Assistant of the Education Department Dayle Rebelein discussed his ex­citement for the event. He wrote, “The art festival is a crazy wonderful celebration of children’s art. We have eight to ten local art teachers who annually work very hard to fill the Palmer gallery full to bursting with chil­dren’s art. You have never seen the gallery so full…Just search for ‘Iyoya’ on the Vassar web site and you will be able to see years worth of art. It’s pretty amazing.”

As dynamic as the event is, it came about after Iyoya’s passing. Rebelein explained, “Be­hind all of this fun is a serious reason from which this all began. John Iyoya was an out­standing student in Elementary Education at Vassar.

He was particularly strong in his ability to apply aesthetics to classroom teaching. He loved children, he loved teaching and he loved art. After his tragic death, the Department of Education decided to honor him with an annu­al art show featuring the work of local elemen­tary and middle school children.”

With the help of Iyoya’s former classmates, the exhibition came together. Rebelein contin­ued, “Members of his class gathered funds to establish an annual prize in Elementary Teach­er Education in John’s memory. This prize is given to the senior student in Elementary Edu­cation who demonstrates a love of children and teaching and who shows marked application of creativity to the day-to-day tasks of the class­room … 14 friends of John’s established and maintain this fund.”

This year, the prize will be awarded to So­phie Lederman ’16, who has demonstrated a love of teaching and an application of creativi­ty. Rebelein commented, “This year, our lovely, talented and creative Sophie Lederman will be awarded the prize in John’s honor at the award­ing of prizes ceremony during graduation. Sophie has earned her elementary education certificate while a student here, she complet­ed her student teaching practicum this past fall semester.”

Many of Iyoya’s close friends started the fund. Before Dr. Andy Berman ’83, a friend of Iyoya’s, came to the 2014 commencement, he wrote, “John was my very close friend and housemate at Vassar and with help from his many friends and his family, we were able to establish this Prize in his memory shortly after his untimely death.”

Berman continued, “I have attended this cer­emony many times since graduation (in 1983), though unfortunately, not recently. When I was able to attend, I always found it deeply mean­ingful to see a new generation of gifted stu­dents be honored, while at the same time cele­brating my friend. I look forward to returning to Vassar once again this weekend.”

Participants include a countless amount of schools and constitute a population of bud­ding young artists of many ages and from many different backgrounds. Rebelein noted, “For 31 years, the Education Department and these de­voted teachers have been putting on this show. The show will include artwork by students from Overlook Primary School, Noxon Road Elementary School, G.W. Krieger Elementary School, Warring Magnet Academy of Science and Technology, Morse Young Child Magnet School, Hagan Elementary School, Nassau El­ementary School, Lagrange Middle School, Todd Middle School and Wimpfheimer Nurs­ery School at Vassar College.”

Rebelein, however, noted the unfortunate timing of the festival for some. He wrote, “The festival tends to run over spring break every year so sadly the students here do not often get to see it.”

But Rebelein remains unfazed by the slight scheduling predicament. Despite a similar schedule last year, more than 200 works of art were presented in the gallery. The works included paintings, drawings, sculptures and more–making it a truly eclectic exhibition. The breadth of schools represented ensures a strong community turnout at the event.

Rebelein, in fact, expressed not only his own excitement but also the excitement of these youth artists and their family members. The event has meant a lot to families in the commu­nity. Rebelein explained, “The show will run the first week of break. Teachers will begin to put up the art Friday afternoon. Sunday, March 13 will be the open house and hundreds of chil­dren and parents and grandparents will come to see the showcase. It’s very exciting, the kids and parents are very excited and the teachers work really, really hard at this.”

The opening reception will take place on Sunday, March 13, 2016 at 2 p.m. in the Palm­er Gallery located in the College Center. The exhibition will be on display from March 13 to March 18 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Rebelein maintains fresh excitement for the decades-long tradition. Rebelein concluded, “[A]s you can see this Iyoya event has many layers and is a very big deal. 31 years this has been rolling along and for the community, generations of elementary and middle school kids have had this connection to Vassar and our teacher preparation program. Pretty neat, huh?”

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