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A matter of culture

Second-grader Quinn Chapman sipped lime green sherbet out of a plastic champagne glass, careful not to spill it on his gray pinstripe suit.

Quinn, 8, and dozens of other students from Sutherland Elementary recently attended a PTA-sponsored dress-up occasion at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art.

The formal event, dubbed "An Art Affair," was open to students, their siblings and parents. It included free sherbet "champagne" and hors d'oeuvres while a Harry Connick Jr. CD played softly in the background. Parents and children toured the museum on their own or with docents who answered questions.

"An Art Affair" was the brainchild of Kim Rupert, whose daughter Laney, 5, is in kindergarten at Sutherland.

"It's important to expose kids to experiences they might not get in the classroom," Rupert said.

Rupert and her family moved here last year from Ohio, where she was a fifth-grade teacher and her district had an active arts program, she said.

Sutherland PTA president Sue Chapman, Quinn's mother, said Rupert came up with the concept and organized it.

"Kim jumped right in and brought a lot of energy to this," Chapman said.

It is the first time the PTA has sponsored an event like this, and Chapman hopes it becomes an annual affair.

"I have three kids, and I'm embarrassed to say I've never taken them to a museum before," she said.

It was also a first for the museum.

"We haven't hosted an event like this for elementary students before," said Patti Buster, education coordinator for the Leepa-Rattner Museum. "We are looking to expand our school outreach program, and this is a wonderful way to do it."

"An Art Affair" was held on a Thursday evening, the one day the museum is open until 9 p.m. It closes at 5 p.m. other days and is closed all day on Mondays. For children, students and members, admission is free. Admission for adults is $5, or $4 for seniors.

In preparation for the event, Sutherland art teacher Connie Boler did a PowerPoint presentation in all her classes on the museum, on Klosterman Road in Tarpon Springs. The students saw works by Abraham Rattner and Pablo Picasso.

They also discussed proper museum behavior.

"First, we had to figure out what "etiquette' meant," Boler said. "Oh, and hors d'oeuvres, too."

First-grader Mark Wilhelm, 6, attended the event with his mother and 3-year-old brother. He said proper museum etiquette meant "no running around or hiding under tables, and don't break the glass displays."

Fourth-grader Allie Douthat, 9, said it was her first time visiting the Leepa-Rattner Museum and that she was having a good time. "Art class is one of my favorite things at school," she said.

Allie likes to draw, especially images of people, and said she thinks that one day she might have something hanging in a museum. Now, a raised-relief sculpture she created out of aluminum is on display at the district administration building in Largo.

Fifth-grader Nicole Columbo, 11, said she especially liked the museum's blown glass display. Going to a museum is a great experience, she said, because "You learn a lot . . . because the artists will try to tell you something through their pictures without words."

Sutherland principal Brenda Leasure said she strongly endorses this type of program.

"We heavily encourage the arts because for many students, that's where they shine," Leasure said.

For the first time last spring, Sutherland held a "Night of the Arts" in which students' handiwork was displayed, and there were drama and music presentations. All Sutherland students participated in some capacity.

The response was enthusiastic, Leasure said, and the school plans to do it again in April.

"It was so heavily attended last year, you could hardly move," she said.

Kim Rupert, who came up with the idea of the museum visit, said she is excited about the emphasis on the arts and plans to continue her efforts to reach students through extracurricular projects.

"We need parents to get involved," she said. "Teachers can't do it all."

Cody Hurton, 7, and his mother, Kim, study a full-size reproduction of Picasso's painting Guernica, which is accompanied by a 15-minute audio description of the work, during Sutherland Elementary's visit to the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs. "I like that it has a lot of details," Cody said of the painting.

Dan Rupert and his daughter Emma, 3, take a break in the Challenge of Modern Art Interactive Gallery at the Leepa-Rattner. Rupert's wife, Kim, organized the evening. Their other daughter, Laney, 5, attends Sutherland.

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