Visuals and text by Marisa Martin
Drawings, paintings, jewelry, sculptures, costumes. The intricate works by talented students line the halls of Cagli's high school for the arts, part of a tradition that has lasted for 200 years. But hope for the future of that tradition has come to an end.
The next academic year is scheduled to be the school's last.
Since its opening, the Gaetano Lapis branch of the Istitito Statale D'Arte has been helping students earn degrees in fine arts and industrial arts. Students choose one of the two tracks and study that medium, along with 13 core courses, for five years. As students advance, they gradually focus more directly on their specialization.
The art school had served the community very well, easily attracting students from surrounding towns. But it is clear to Lenina Donini, principal, and Cristina Vecchioni, teacher, that things have changed. About 50 years ago, the school fell out of favor, and enrollment has suffered ever since. These days there are only 25 students. One 4th year student. One 5th year student.
Next year there will be none.
Vecchioni claims, "I swear, we've done everything we can."
The Italian school system functions differently from the American system. In the United States, the vast majority of students attend a general education high school. A specialization is not formally chosen until college. In Italy, after middle school, Italian youth go off to a high school, or liceo, focused on their particular interests. A concentration is picked at the age of 14.
The structure of Italian high schools is similar to that of a college or university in America. A large portion of time is dedicated to a particular concentration, but all students are exposed to a variety of subjects like math, sciences, and art. Unfortunately, Donini explains, the time spent on art in non-art schools is very small. The subject is barely covered.
Several locally famous artists have graduated from the art school. But over the last 50 years the school has suffered two problems, Vecchioni says. First, enrollment dropped as interest in the arts has waned. Then the school earned a reputation for a grade-B education because it has low expectations for the students' performance in academic subjects, she says.
Donini agrees: "Neighboring cities in the Marche see the education as second-rate. Students are not attracted to our school for this reason."
Students, however, diligently continue to make the costumes for Cagli's theater productions. Costumes don't have to be perfect. Actors and dancers are on stage where the stitches cannot be scrutinized. Students have the ideal opportunity to have their work admired by a large number of people. The costumes are, indeed, appreciated but not enough to inspire the audience to help save the school, according to Vecchioni.
All attempts to revive the school have failed to bear fruit. Even after help from the main school, the G. Lapis branch has seen no response from exhibitions and demonstrations in the street.
The administration has even entertained suggestions for a fashion show in the piazza. Unfortunately, they do not have enough students or the time to put on a respectable fashion show. Energy would be poured into creating only four or five decent outfits, and townspeople would be left dissatisfied by the rushed sewing and unfinished seams. Efforts would be counterproductive.
Vecchioni is realistic about the future of the school but still hopes, "Maybe [there will be] a miracle, and [the school will] go past next year."