Exploring innovative art in Shannon Hopkins' class
Published on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021
BCSD photos / Monica Kreber
The over-arching theme in Shannon Hopkins’ class is: “art is for everyone.”
Hopkins is one of three art teachers at Cane Bay High. Her students regularly work on innovative projects but Hopkins is a teacher known for getting her students exposure for their artwork beyond the classroom by getting them involved in lots of contests and exhibits.
“I like art contests, I like exhibits, I like to make the art relevant for students,” Hopkins said. “When they see their work in an exhibit they take so much pride in it; it’s an affirmation that what they do matters.”
Hopkins has worked in education for 23 years and is in her fourth year at Cane Bay High. She is originally from Aiken and initially studied biology at the College of Charleston – she added art as a second major halfway through college. She did several art-related jobs after college and also did substitute teaching, which she enjoyed.
This put her on the path to becoming an art teacher, and she tells her students all the time: “It is your life – pay attention to what makes you happy.”
“I love teaching,” she said. “It’s pretty sweet to do what you love.”
She teaches Art I, Art 4 and AP/Studio Art (2D and drawing). She was one of six BCSD educators who scored funds for their schools and classrooms through Berkeley Electric Cooperative’s Bright Ideas Education Grant Program; Hopkins plans to purchase a pottery wheel, clay and glazes so she can get students more involved in 3D art. The new equipment should arrive next semester.
Hopkins really enjoys printmaking and mixed media, which she teaches in Art 4 and AP Art, but she has a heart for her Art I class because it is her chance to get students excited about art.
“I’m kind of like the ‘bread’ of our art program,” she said. “I get them in the beginning and then I get them in the AP (class), which is more of like an independent study, so it’s really fun to have the different levels.”
She particularly likes the first project her Art I students complete: Zentangle animal drawings.
“I like to start off with something they are going to be successful at because it builds confidence,” she said. “My goal is to have every kid in the class feel good about themselves.”
Hopkins described her classroom as an emotionally and physically safe place for her students to express themselves and be who they want to be, and she models that herself.
“If I see any type of negative comments I try to…make it a teachable moment,” she said. “We’re all in this together, we’re here to support each other and just create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable.”
She had a group of Art Club students recently complete an interactive mural in the Fine Arts hallway at school: students created different colored “feathers” made of paper to construct a set of wings on a wall (see time lapse video above). Passersby will be encouraged to get their photo taken with the mural and post online using the hashtag #canebaygivesyouwings. The mural is adorned with a quote by Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo: “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly.”
The Fine Arts hallway is a good spot for the mural, as Cane Bay High’s art program is also very connected with the other Fine Arts classes, with whom they often collaborate for different performances and events at the school.
“I think it’s my job to get my kids to work with every art material while they’re here,” she said, adding, “We’re going to do these things because I want them to love it and experience it.”
Hopkins also has a great working relationship with Cane Bay High’s other two art teachers; she described Brian Lariviere as the school’s “illustration guru” who is really good at realism, while Katherine Thomas is a very environmental/sculpture-inspired artist who helps her students find meaning and purpose in their art.
Hopkins keeps her students busy in her class by showing them the different paths art can take them.
“I think it’s really important for students to give back to their community but also have…our art program shines in the community, so that they can see a future in it, if that’s what they want to do with their career,” she said.
Hopkins accomplishes this by getting her students very involved in art contests and exhibits. She has had students earn “big checks” by placing in the Coastal Carolina Fair’s art contest. She has also had students compete in the annual Home Telecom cover page artwork contest.
Art students also participate in the QUEST contest at Trident Technical College, the Doodle for Google contest, plus a number of schoolwide art contests and projects. In the past her art students have gotten involved in the Charleston Artist Guild senior exhibit at the Visitor’s Center; students have scored scholarships through this exhibit.
The Public Works Art Center in Summerville is another place that has featured her students’ work; Hopkins herself has had her work displayed in the studio.
Hopkins also had a mixed media piece that will be featured in the MOJA Arts Festival in Charleston, which celebrates African American and Caribbean culture.
Hopkins said such exposure helps her students take more ownership and pride in their work, and she wants them to see there are lots of jobs they can explore through art.
“Art is infused into so many careers now,” she said.
By the time they leave her classroom, Hopkins wants her students to have empathy for others and be passionate, global citizens.
“I want them to find their talent and their interest so that they can be happy and…if they can make money off what they’re good at, what they’re talented at, then I think that leads to a very happy life,” she said.