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Former Wilsonville High art teacher spearheads virtual events through Blackfish Gallery

COURTESY PHOTO - Former Wilsonville High art teacher Christopher Shotola-Hardt organized virtual art festivals through Blackfish Gallery.

With COVID-19 news continually bleak and the election season sometimes bringing out the worst in people, former Wilsonville High art teacher Christopher Shotola-Hardt is hoping to spread some positivity.

So he, along with other members of Blackfish Gallery, which is located in Portland, spearheaded the Be About Love and Love Politik: One World, Indivisible! online festivals, which are up through the end of November. These festivals feature art galleries to go along with poetry, dance and musical performances with the goal of highlighting beauty and inspiring activism.

"It's about love. It's about promoting empathy and cultural understanding. People are addressing social issues, historic issues, issues of racism and love also for the planet. There's several pieces that delve into environmentalism and the need for caring for the planet and stewardship," Shotola-Hardt said.

A founding member of the Blackfish Gallery, Shotola-Hardt said he felt compelled to address societal division over a year ago. He envisioned an in-person affair but refocused to the online realm during the pandemic.

And he enlisted a few Wilsonville artists to join the endeavor, including Paul Missal, Wilsonville High art teacher Angennette Escobar and former Wilsonville High student Olivia Awbrey.

"I'm very grateful to Christopher for coming up with this idea and throwing himself into the concept — not just painting and printmaking and visual expression in the two-dimensional sense but also poetry and music and many ways of expressing feelings about beauty," Missal said.

COURTESY PHOTO - Wilsonville resident Paul Missal created pieces about communication for the exhibit. Missal's etched artwork showcases the wonders of communication while Escobar's sculptured works address cultural awareness and history through theology and her Mexican heritage.

"She celebrates her culture and presents it in a way that is rich and brings people on board," Shotola-Hardt said of Escobar's work. About Missal, he remarked: "Paul's work is always about beauty and heart. It would be hard to find a person with a bigger heart than Paul Missal."

COURTESY PHOTO - Wilsonville High art teacher Angennette Escobar's pieces include wood, polymer clay and acrylic.

Awbrey, for her part, delivered a performance with her indie rock band, which is available to watch on the site.

"I asked her to be a part of the festival because the message in her music has always been a good fit for what we're doing," Shotola-Hardt said. "It has a lot of social awareness and the message in it is a positive message but takes a critical look at social issues and things that aren't going well in our society."

Shotola-Hardt's progressive folk band Bug Toast also performed, and the retired art teacher contributed a neon piece in collaboration with the sign company Artico Lite that reads "Be About Love."

"That's (Be About Love) part of the festival programming but it's also a mantra I use for myself when I'm not feeling centered or there's something that's gnawing at me," Shotola-Hardt said.

The Wilsonville Arts and Culture Council, which canceled the annual Wilsonville Festival of the Arts due to COVID-19, sponsored the festival. The gallery also brought some programming to the Charbonneau Festival of the Arts, which runs through October.

"It feels good that all three organizations are all helping to support each other's programming," Shotola-Hardt said.

To view Blackfish Gallery exhibits or performances, visit

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