2017 Viola Award Nominee for Excellence in Arts Education

Joe Cornett is a teacher of digital photography at Flagstaff High School, who has been noted for his excellence as an arts educator both in the classroom and in the wider community. Cornett makes an effort to provide his students with opportunities for exploring art beyond the classroom. His students are always well represented in the annual Youth Art Exhibition at the Coconino Center for the Arts. This exhibition features K-12 student artwork from throughout the Flagstaff area and provides a space for youth to display their work in a professional gallery setting. The Youth Art Exhibition is juried by a collection of NAU art students and in past years Cornett’s students have often won awards for their work.

Cornett’s students also participate in the annual Youth Lens competition at the Nature Exposed Photography Gallery, and are often recognized for their talents. The competition is juried by professional photographers Steven Saunders, Tom Alexander and Tony Freeman, and in 2016 both first and second prize went to students in Cornett’s classroom. It is a great honor for Cornett’s students to win prizes and awards for their work, and it no doubt speaks highly of Cornett’s talent as an educator. However, perhaps the more important achievement is the opportunity for students to participate as artists in the larger Flagstaff community. Cornett understands that this kind of exposure builds a young artist’s confidence and introduces them to a professional artistic setting.

This exposure does not stop with the Flagstaff area. Every year Cornett takes his advanced photography students to visit the Getty Museum and the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Southern California. He thinks it’s imperative that his students view work in influential spaces, and have the opportunity to photograph in areas that are outside of Flagstaff.

Cornett’s students have been published in the Annual Best of High School Photography hosted by Photographer’s Forum. In the last 2 years over 40 of his students were selected to be part of this national juried competition and published in the book. Earlier this year, two of his students also placed 1st and 2nd place in the Arizona Light Photography Competition hosted by Canon USA and Tempe Camera. His school had the most winning participants and won the highest accolades across the state.

Though Cornett encourages his students to participate in artistic settings outside of school, he also recognizes the important opportunities to share artwork within the school. His students’ work can be seen throughout Flagstaff High School in yearbooks, social media and artwork displays. They use cameras to create art and to capture scenes from important school events.

Principal Tony Cullen describes his admiration of these photography students who are turning documentation into a form of art – “The works do not simply depict high school life, but capture the struggle and essence of emotions of a teenage imagination such as the excitement depicted in the photograph of the student section after the win against the cross town rivalry.”

Cornett’s students demonstrate a sense of pride in their school by lending their artwork to the building. One of Cornett’s most recent projects is a series of life size wheat paste murals created by his Photo III students. These murals will be created in the spring and will decorate the outside walls of the school. They will depict the cultural diversity of the campus and social issues that the students want to shed light on. It is a perfect example of using art to convey a powerful message – an important lesson for Cornett’s students.