Pablo Picasso once said that all children are artists; the problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.

As an art teacher for the past 17 years, Jennie Roles-Walter understands the importance of art in education. She says that art education aids in the development of motor, language and social skills, decision-making, risk-taking, higher-level problem solving, cultural awareness and acceptance of not only one’s own culture but that of others. The arts allow students to develop self-esteem, to be self-expressive by using their imagination, and to apply their knowledge of other, more academic subjects in creative ways.

Even Albert Einstein considered imagination more important than knowledge. “For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire work, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Likewise, Mark Twain said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

Studies show that gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill can also be associated with those who are involved in the arts.

Unfortunately, there is often a public sense that the arts - while lovely - is not essential, that the purpose of education is to prepare kids for jobs and to be productive citizens, all the while placing emphasis on test scores. There is, however, a third purpose: teach them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty, which is just as important.

Roles-Walter, also known to many as the Art Teacher, believes that art is vital in rural communities as well as low income areas in which families are unable to visit museums and experience high level cultural experiences.

This past year, Roles-Walter obtained a $5,000 grant through the Tennessee Arts Commission for Lincoln County High School, where she has taught for the past seven years, to pay for a huge student-led mural in the Falcon Football Field House, paintings for the new school foyer and wing, as well as printed educational and inspirational banners with student art on Huntsville Highway near the school entrance.

Visiting artists Karen Ingle of Karen Ingle Art and Sarah Bradford of Heart of Sarah assisted with several facets of this grant including lesson tutorials for students and were integral to its success.

Roles-Walter, who is a talented artist in her own rights, designed the murals and appointed several students as lead artists to help in the process of painting these large-scale works prior to the visiting artists coming to assist with completing these projects and demonstrating their specialized art techniques.

LCHS student-lead artists included Alyssa Kirby, Autumn Schwartz, Mae Watt, Myla Louden, Victoria Dickerson and many, many assisting artists.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for our school, students and community” said Roles-Walter. “Art enrichment is vital to cultural and community growth and I am proud to be a part of art enrichment efforts for our community every year.”

The arts also create tourism and improve the aesthetics of one’s environment; they provide a narrative about one’s community by sharing not only its heritage but its niches, its soul and its vision to all who visit and then draws them back. Roles-Walter says that statistically, art creates healthier and more economically advanced schools, neighborhoods and communities.

“The arts enrich each of us and engaging in the arts fosters a greater sense of a collective community,” she adds.