Karisse Carmack | 10/15/2010, 11:51 a.m.

Museum studies students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Ellington faculty and D.C. Public School teachers - all know that in order to achieve any goal in life -- one must be willing to "...dream..," which also happens to be the name of the new art exhibit on display at the premiere arts school in Northwest.

The "...dream..." exhibit was created in collaboration with the school's upcoming production of "Dreamgirls," the award-winning Broadway play, which is scheduled to begin its run in December. Original Dreamgirl, Jennifer Holliday will perform on opening night, Dec. 9.

More than 200 attended the "...dream..." reception and kick-off in the Ellington Gallery on Thu., Sept. 30 and guests had an opportunity to talk with artists about their work.

The primary goal of "...dream..." is about "finding your success in life," said Marta Reid Stewart, chair of Ellington's

Museum Studies department.Students started to plan the exhibit during the spring, former and current teachers, Ellington alumni and faculty along with special guest artists from D.C Public schools were asked to participate, Stewart said.

"We started brainstorming last school year once we learned that we were going to do the 'Dreamgirls' theatrical production," she said.

"Museum Studies seniors decided on some of the teachers that they wanted to be in the show, and we used the summer months to actually contact those teachers and ask them to submit work."

Forty-seven works of art created by 17 artists are featured in "...dream...," using a variety of different media that includes paintings, sculpture, photography and prints. One of the works of art was created by Mike Easton, Ellington's visual arts chair. He said that his work, "Tin Man," was inspired by the 1939 classic, "The Wizard of Oz."

"Tin Man is known as one of the characters who was in search of a heart, only to discover that the very thing he was looking for, he already had," Easton, 47, said.

The Tin Man's journey in the film resonated with Easton, who said he saw elements of himself, both in the movie and in his art work.

"One of the things that I certainly hope that people will take away from this ["Tin Man"] is that if you're going to dream, dream big, and in order to that, you have to have a heart. ...It takes heart to pursue your dreams and goals," he said.

Even an Ellington faculty member who doesn't teach art decided to submit a piece for "...dream...." Science teacher James Bennett provided Museum Studies with "Dream Palace," a digital print of the Kennedy Center.

"A lot of dreams have been made at the Kennedy Center, it's a performance institution, where people come to show their dreams," Bennett, 62, said.

"Their performances at some level are indicative of what people have [dreamed about], and they want other folks to see what they've been able to do, and what they've been able to present, so that's why "Dream Palace" is the Kennedy Center."

Retired schoolteacher E.L. Whitley used scenes of nature, history, and elements of surrealism to express what dreams mean to her, particularly in one of her pieces, titled, "Freedom."

"Freedom" is a surrealistic painting that features entertainer Josephine Baker dancing in her famous banana skirt costume along the Seine River, with the Notre Dame cathedral and the Eiffel Tower in the background," Whitley said.

An educator, Whitley worked in the District's public school system for more than 30 years before retiring in 2008. She once taught at Takoma Elementary School in Northwest and specialized in early childhood education. She helped children to develop their artistic abilities.

"Anybody who [makes art] as a career is [a] very disciplined person, who has a passion for it - it takes a lot of discipline," she said.

Museum studies student Joel Bernola also got an opportunity to put his artistic talents on display in, "The Room," an abstract piece which aims to have viewers "drawn into" the picture's lines and patterns.
"It makes the person think, 'What's happening in this, what is going on?' " Bernola said.
Bernola, 14, said he has adjusted to the routine at the Blue Ribbon school, and one of his future goals is to become a museum educator.

"I'd also like to become an artist," he said.

Indeed, the behind the scenes work of Stewart's museum studies students proved critical in bringing "...dream..." to fruition.

Freshman Juwan Womack helped with the gallery arrangements for opening night and also checked the credit line information for the identification labels. His family has a history with Duke Ellington School of the Arts - he said that his sister attended the school. Today, he's thrilled to be there.

"It was a dream come true," Womack, 14, said.

"I hope people will realize [that] Museum Studies for children [is] hard work, and just recognize that when you come together, dreams can come true," he said.

Other artists featured in the exhibit include Ellington instructor Rhonda Silver, visual arts teacher Bill Harris, and Ellington's comptroller, Brian Nielson.

Stewart said there is a rhyme and reason to exhibiting art. It involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
"A museum curator must have a keen eye for what we consider to be 'good art,' " Stewart said.
"Works of art should speak to each other and to the viewer as well. Placement of art should be motivated by aesthetics as well as subject matter," she said.

Stewart also has some dreams for Ellington - she would like to see Ellington's permanent art collection become the basis for establishing an accredited museum. She hopes the lessons from "...dream..." will inspire the viewer to stop talking about their dreams and start putting them into motion.

The "...dream..." exhibit is on display until Nov. 19. The gallery is open weekdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tours are offered from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Tickets for the upcoming Dreamgirls production are available. Call the Ellington Theatre Box Office at 202-337-4825or visit www.ellingtonschool.org.