Art program helps students take home top honors

Art students at Brookwood High in Snellville work in a variety of media with the latest technological tools. Courtesy

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Art students at Brookwood High in Snellville work in a variety of media with the latest technological tools. Courtesy

More than 80 metro area schools submitted hundreds of works to this year’s Atlanta High School Art Exhibition in April. Amid the array of entries, submissions from students at Brookwood High stood out, taking two of the 10 best-in-show honors and two honorable mentions.

Outstanding student works are a tradition at the Snellville school that has built an enviable reputation in the Atlanta area.

“Other art teachers always said, ‘If you have a chance to go to Brookwood, do it,’” said Chris Vigardt, co-chair of the fine arts department who has been on the faculty since 2007. “Brookwood has always had a robust program.”

Vigardt, who teaches sculpture, art, ceramics and design, attributes much of the program’s success to two approaches.

“We try to emphasize what’s next,” he said. “It’s not just about making good objects but also exploring other possibilities. I have really stressed experimentation, and I know my colleagues do the same.”

Elizabeth Debban challenges students in her drawing and painting classes to try new techniques and processes. Loria Crews urges students to play with light and color. All three encourage working with contemporary tools.

“Over the years, we’ve ramped up our integration of technological tools like digital cameras and Mac computers,” said Vigardt. “We’re integrating video as well. And we now have saws, air guns and power tools we didn’t have access to before.”

Having the latest equipment allows students to work to industry standards, said Crews. “We’re always striving to get the latest software, cameras and things artists are working with currently into our classrooms.”

The staff also shares a commitment to helping students think through the messages their art will make.

“The three of us have focused on the why, the intent behind the work,” said Vigardt. “We’ve become more intentional about making work that has impact and helping students think about why they’re choosing these colors or this subject matter. That draws out better work that’s more personal and has depth and meaning.”

Brookwood has strong ties to its feeder schools that encourage younger students to get involved in the arts, said Vigardt.

“We invite our elementary and middle schools to come here for an art show that gets the next generation excited about being in this space,” he said. “And we regularly have conversations with our students about what their next steps are. Do they want to go into graphic design, be a fine artist or teach? We foster and encourage careers in the arts.”

Debban, a 2006 Brookwood grad, is a role model for where students can take their art.

“We also invite alums back to share what they’re doing,” she said. “They’re into everything from architecture to tattooing. We show them you don’t have to be a starving artist.”

Information about Brookwood High is online at

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