Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thank you, Lee Hanchey.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Henrico art teacher honored for efforts

By Lisa Crutchfield

Published: January 24, 2009

A new building can be a blank canvas for an academic program.

Henrico County's new visual arts building in the Center for the Arts opened this month already embellished -- with a reputation for producing noted works by teachers, students and alumni.

Center director Lee Hanchey, who guided the program and the construction of the facility, says there is much more to come.

Last week, the School Board voted to name the building at Henrico High School for Hanchey, who has guided the center for the past 12 years.

"Lee Hanchey is an exceptionally gifted and dedicated educator, and her efforts have helped students and the center achieve local, regional and statewide recognitions," said Fred Morton IV, superintendent of schools. "Lee's bright personality is contagious, and her love of students and her profession will live on forever."

The arts program began in 1990 with about 30 students; today it has 228 students preparing for careers as visual artists, dancers and actors. Each year, hundreds audition or submit portfolios for admission to the competitive program.

Hanchey lobbied tirelessly for several years to get a visual arts building and was not above a little politicking.

"We used to do an architectural unit for students," she said. "They would draw plans for arts buildings and think about what kind of space they'd need."

"We'd bring School Board members in to judge," she added.

Eventually, the board agreed to fund the 6,975-square-foot building, which features four studios, a gallery and storage. Designed by Moseley Architects and constructed by Haley Builders, the building features large glass windows, skylights and a gallery. It cost $2.58 million.

The rooms were dedicated and named in honor of Morton, former School Board Chairman Lloyd E. Jackson Jr., former Henrico High School Principal William H. Parker, former visual arts teacher Jeffrey Hall and Henrico County Board of Supervisors member Frank J. Thornton.

Hall, who now is chairman of the fine arts department at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, credits Hanchey as his mentor. "I often ask myself, 'WWLD?' -- or, 'What would Lee do?'" he said.

Classroom studios are large and airy, but Hanchey's favorite part of the building isn't immediately visible. It's a large closet that runs the length of the building. "We finally have storage," she said. "Holy cow! Who'd have ever thought we'd have storage?"

The arts program students said they appreciate the new facility.

"We have this amazing natural lighting," said 10th-grader Allie Ayers. "I absolutely love it."

In a recent Visual Arts II class, Ayers and classmate Ally Wolf were inking in cartoons.

"Before the new building, we were in the theater room," Wolf said. "We sat on the floor because there were no tables."

During the arts program's history, students often worked in makeshift facilities. Before the auditorium was renovated several years ago, the dance and theater students would overheat because the space did not have air conditioning. "We had to ice the kids down backstage," Hanchey said.

The new Lee Hanchey Visual Arts Building is a culmination of Hanchey's career at Henrico -- which also is her alma mater. "I was in the first graduating class in 1965," she said. "I got a great education here."

She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University. A musician by training, she returned to the school in 1979 as a choral teacher.

"We're lucky to have this space and this program," she said. "Parents tell me that their child found themselves here. Children tell me they've found friends here.

"We cultivate that," she said. "They have a place to explore their capabilities."

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