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It’s a word that means many things to different people.

Writers spend their entire lives searching for it. Scientists stumble upon it accidentally sometimes; like when an experiment takes an unexpected turn thereby illuminating a new possibility. Educators dedicate their careers to brainstorming inventive ways to impart it to their students.

Whatever form inspiration takes or is utilized by its recipient, the city of Dana Point, its people, events and the beauty of its natural surroundings, all provide a plethora of the stuff for the taking.

Inspiration was the idea behind Dana Point Festival of Whales coordinator Penny Elia when she first sought to include Dana Hills High School students as active participants in the city’s annual event.

Elia first approached Dana Hills digital photography teacher Natalie Hribar-Kelly near the end of last school year with an idea for challenging her students to design the logo for the 2012 Dana Point Festival of Whales.

“What better way to get the community involved in the Festival than to include our youth,” said Elia. “Natalie agreed and had just the student for the job—Carver Moore.”

Moore—now studying film editing at the Academy of Art in San Francisco—was already inspired by the festival, having grown up in Dana Point and attended many times. A talented videographer and editor as well, Moore had even taken it upon himself to produce a video of the 2011 Festival.

He also amassed a collection of art-related skills through his classes at Dana Hills—having studied darkroom photography, video production and graphic design.

“I was very excited to be chosen but it felt strange because this is the first time my work will be widely viewed by the public,” said Moore. “I am very honored to be recognized in my hometown and have my design represent a festival that was a big part of my life growing up.”

Student involvement could have stopped there, but Elia again found herself inspired by the beauty of Carver’s design to expand student involvement into other areas of the festival.

She reached out to all of the art department instructors at the high school and invited a group of 90 students to take a January 12 field trip whale watching aboard a Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching boat and touring the Ocean Institute and its historic tallship Brig Pilgrim.

Students from all of the school’s visual art classes—from darkroom photography, drawing and painting to ceramics, sculpture and video production—were asked to attend the outing both to find inspiration from what they saw and to interact with professional artists to gather first-hand insight into what a future career in the arts may hold.

The field trip would serve as a motivator, not only for next year’s planned logo competition, but also to spark the creativity of the students who will be creating works of art that will be displayed at this year’s festival as part of the Art in the Park visual arts show.

It wasn’t long after the vessel Dana Pride pulled out of the harbor that the crew spotted a large number of common dolphin, numbering somewhere in the 400 to 500 range and the clicking sound of nearly a hundred camera shutters filled the air.

“That was by far one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. To see so many dolphins at one time was amazing, I just started snapping away,” said student Sarah Wilson. “Personally, art is something I want to do with my life so I think this field trip is a great opportunity for us because in the real world we won’t be stuck up in a classroom or with just the school as our boundaries.”

Wilson was just one of the many teens aboard who said the experience would definitely inspire the artwork they will be creating for the festival in the coming months.

As if the huge frolicking dolphin pod wasn’t enough, the students—some on their first whale watching trip ever—were treated to the sight of an immense gray whale lifting its tail fluke out of the water in preparation for a deep dive and another pod of about 15 to 20 bottlenose dolphin swimming alongside the boat.

In between wildlife sightings, many kids took advantage of the opportunity to interact with one of the professional artists also on board.

Glass blowing artist Muffin Spencer-Devlin was one such artist ready and willing to answer students’ questions about her career as an artist.

“I think, first off it’s important to follow your heart, whatever your art is. Practice makes perfect. One of my favorite quotes is ‘With practice all things come,’” said Spencer-Devlin to some of the students. “Immerse yourself into it. There’s a joy in creating, a love of material, a love of the finished product. Basically it’s a big fat love affair with your media.”

Spencer-Devlin, who had a 21-year career on the LPGA, retired in 2001 and floundered a bit before finding glass in 2006, said she thinks it’s a fantastic idea to include high school art students in the Festival of Whales and that she was happy to attend and speak with the kids about both the aesthetics and the business of art.

“I didn’t come to art until later in my life, but if I had been interested in high school I would have killed for an opportunity like this,” she said.

Aspyn Adams, a drawing, painting, ceramics and studio art student who will study animation at college in the fall, agreed saying and that she intends to incorporate some of what she saw that day in her creations for the festival art show.

“This day has been motivation for the future. It exposed me not only to my art and what it means to me, but to other people’s art and what it means to them,” said Adams. “The dolphins were amazing and inspiring. They looked so free; so I’m thinking I may try to incorporate some of that feeling of that freedom in the art I make for the festival show.”

Art in the Park Coordinator Jackie Gallagher said she is excited to see the work that results from the experiences the kids had on the trip.

“This is a great way to expose kids to other avenues they can take with their art. Being around professional artists and showing their work among them will be a great experience for them and give them some good exposure as artists,” said Gallagher. “We started three years ago with 15 artists in the show and hope to have 70 this year, not including the students. We hope that the student aspect of the show will grow organically as well in coming years.”

Krista Snow, who teaches Film Photography, SOCSA Photography and AP Studio Art classes at Dana Hills concurred.

“Dana Hills is a strong supporter of the arts and as teachers we are always looking for new ways to make our students’ experience more real and more professional. So, to have our students be invited to take part in a community art show alongside professional artists is amazing. It gives them extra motivation to step up their efforts and put their work on a professional level,” said Snow. “This field trip will give them a chance to create an even higher level of artwork. We’re hoping it inspires some really fantastic work and becomes and annual tradition.”

With such strong support from all involved, future growth of youth involvment in the festival seems pretty much a sure thing.

Elia, already hatching ideas to expand the program, says she doesn’t plan to limit future participation to visual arts students in creating the logo and showing their work at Art in the Park.

“I recently confirmed The Commanders—the United States Air Force’s 17-piece big band—will be playing at this year’s festival and their director of operations suggested that we include some local high school musicians as well,” said Elia. “And I think that’s a fabulous idea.”

The 2012 Festival of Whales is scheduled for March 3,4,10 and 11 at the Dana Point Harbor. For more information about the event, log on to

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