Local artists, educators and students have benefited from Dr. Larry Bunch's dedication to advancing the appreciation and creation of visual arts for more than 30 years.
Last week, his commitment to meld art and basic education was rewarded when Bunch was named one of five recipients from among more than 230 nominations of the Woodruff Salutes Georgia Arts in Education Leaders program for 2011.
Joseph Bankoff, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based Woodruff Arts Center, said part of that organization's mission is not only to acknowledge excellence in the arts but also excellence in using arts in education, and that this program is "a recognition, not a competition."
Bankoff spotlighted Bunch's efforts to integrate visual art into the curriculum of K-5 classrooms, championing of arts education throughout the community and founding of a summer arts camp.
"It is a real privilege to recognize those throughout the state who contribute to the community, the children and the future," he said. "The arts are important not only in and of themselves, they can be a tool to change the learning environment."
Bunch said he had a bachelor's degree and "was green as grass" when hired as an art teacher at Ringgold High School. Though he has matured as a teacher, earned advanced degrees and now teaches university courses and serves on state and regional boards, his goal has been constant.
"It is our sacred duty to fan the spark of creativity that is in every child," he said. "All educators love to see the joy on a child's face, the light in their eyes when they are filled with art. To be artistic, to be creative, is what makes us human."
And for more than 30 years Bunch has toiled constantly to integrate art into the general education of all students. Studies indicate that students receiving arts education have higher standardized test scores, are more likely to participate in science and math fairs and are more often recognized for academic achievement.
"He is an integral part of our school," Ringgold High School principal Sharon Vaughn said. "Students in every grade - athletes, Advanced Placement, special needs, anyone - all were exposed to art."
Vaughn nominated Bunch for the Woodruff award months prior to the April 27 tornado that razed portions of her school's campus, including the Beth Kellerhals Arts Center.
It was the Kellerhals Center that one of Bunch's favorite projects, summer art camp, had called home since its inception in 2008. The camp has grown from having 32 kids divided between two, one-week camps to this year having a competitive enrollment of more than 150 campers. But there were concerns about the camp's post-tornado existence.
"I didn't think it would work," Vaughn said. "But within 24 hours Dr. Bunch had an alternative plan."
That plan involved shifting the camp from the Kellerhals studios to vocational classrooms at Heritage High School. The result has been the same Visual Arts Day Camp experience; only the location has changed.
The Woodruff Arts Center awards each of its Georgia Arts in Education Leaders a $2,500 honorarium. Bunch has earmarked half of his award to purchasing supplies to replace those lost in the tornado, with the other half funding scholarships so more could attend this summer's camp.
"What you have enabled here will not be destroyed by a tornado," Bankoff said, after visiting campers in their classes. "These memories, these skills will outlive those of that tornado."