Hopeful rays of warm spring-like sunshine, rare for early March made it easy for people to get out and celebrate before social distancing hit. There had been a record number of pre sale tile purchases and those working the event were hopeful for a great turn out. We were not disappointed as crowds kept coming throughout the event known as Tile-A-Mile, the biannual community art-making event. Tile-A-Mile was started in 2009 when I saw that the Visual Art Department at Pewaukee High School was the only one without a scholarship. I wanted students to have the opportunity to get help with their pursuit of art degrees. I was inspired by the idea to paint tiles and hang them all around the school. I thought some day we might have enough to create a mile long art installation! Charging $10.00 a tile would help raise the funds to establish the first scholarship and allow a deserving art student to pursue their dreams. The event has evolved since that first year becoming a valued celebration of the visual arts program that goes beyond just raising money.
Community members Terry and Lauree Frett were early participants in Tile-A-Mile. After their experience they chose to sponsor the scholarship fund establishing the Gene Frett Visual Art Scholarship in honor of Terry's dad, who worked for Binney Smith (Crayola) selling art supplies to teachers. The generosity of the Fretts freed us from needing to always be raising money to support the fund. Tile-A-Mile has become an all ages celebration of visual art that many community members look forward to. Families bring their children making tiles they know their child will walk under at the high school when they grow up and become students there. People come to the event and stay for an hour or more participating in painting tiles, bidding on silent auction items and purchasing raffle tickets. They also enjoy delicious baked goods made by the art club and donated coffee courtesy of the school’s food service. The participants value the cross-generational camaraderie and hands-on fun, somewhat rare in this plugged in world.
Tile-A-Mile is a learning experience for high school Art Club students employed to run the event. Students participate by making baked goods, designing original works of art, hosting face painting and helping participants paint their tiles. Students also assist the adult volunteers with set-up and clean up. This year Art Club members began their planning efforts in December by choosing a theme for the Funky Furniture Finds, which featured donated old furniture transformed into new original works of functional art. These were donated and auctioned off at the silent auction.
The planning of the event involves parent volunteers too, giving me the opportunity to form valuable partnerships. Volunteer work starts two-three months before the event as they secure donated items from local businesses. This year the items donated were exceptional including an autographed Green Bay Packers football, dinner gift certificates, tickets to local sporting events, theatre performances and museums. The raffle raises almost as much money as the tile painting. People get really excited for the raffle. Having parents organize it is extremely helpful. Parents also come in a few nights before the event and help to assemble all the donations into themed baskets that appeal to Tile-A-Mile participants. Partnering with the many area businesses is an added bonus as many of them have supported us each year with donations and some have chosen to bring their families and participate in the event too.
Creating a sense of community with my K12 Art colleagues is another benefit of the event. Their support working for the day includes clay wheel throwing demonstrations, hands-on make and take crafts and running the ovens to bake the tiles as people complete them. Having so many varied art activities happening all at once creates a tremendous energy. Many members of the school community also attend including teachers, administrators and school board members. All bring their families and enjoy the low key, high happiness energy of making art together.
Tile-A-Mile raised $3300.00 this year, but the money is only part of the story. Tile-A-Mile is a fun-filled event bringing the community together to generate warmth during the doldrums of winter through creativity and generosity. It is well worth the effort and creates a memorable experience for all who participate.