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"A Night of French Immersion" benefits Norman's new language immersion charter school

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
French artists (from L. to R.): Cécile Gambini, Anne Marie Rognon, Hervé Bréhier.
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NORMAN, Okla. – French artists were recently in the spotlight at MAINSITE Contemporary Art in Norman. The Norman Arts Council and Le Monde International School, Oklahoma hosted “A Night of French Immersion” featuring three artists from the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. 

Hervé Bréhier, Cécile Gambini and Anne Marie Rognon all had their art on display, while guests enjoyed wine and hors d’oeuvre from La Baguette. The event also gave guests an opportunity to learn about and give to the new language immersion charter school in Norman, Le Monde International School. With items including an OU football signed by head coach Lincoln Riley, more than$1,500 was raised via silent auction benefiting Le Monde. 

The exhibit is part of a cultural exchange with Norman’s sister cities including Clermont Ferrand, Arezzo, Italy, Colima, Mexico and Seika, Japan. Gavaghan said three Norman artists — Daren Kendall, Ginna Dowling and Jason Cytacki — exhibited their work last May in Clermont-Ferrant. 

"Cultural Connections: Clermont-Ferrand in Norman" will showcase Bréhier, Gambini and Rognon's work beginning Sept. 8- Nov. 10 at MAINSITE Contemporary Art at 122 E. Main in Norman. 

“We will continue to introduce people to the French culture,” said Erinn Gavaghan, the executive director of the Norman Arts Council. 

With Le Monde raising money for their inaugural school year beginning in Fall 2018, it became obvious for Gavaghan that the arrival of the three French artists in Norman could benefit Le Monde’s efforts.

“It became a happy coincidence,” Gavaghan said. “I hope we are going to continue this again when we will do it with our sister city in Mexico.” 

Le Monde International School, which is a public charter school of Norman, was created by a group of parents after the French program was abandoned by Norman Public Schools. 

“It was our best option to continue language and we thought it was very important for the future of our children,” said Loida Salmond, the president of the board of Le Monde International School.

Salmond said Le Monde needs over $575,000 in the first year to operate. The Walton Family Foundation (not present during the event) has already donated $325,000.  

“This is our first fundraising event,” Salmond said.  “I am very thankful to the Norman Arts Council.” 

Salmond expects about 160 children will participate in the first year of immersion classes, which is more than the 110 children who took part in the French program during previous years in Norman. Salmond added the immersion program will first be offered to kindergarten students, one group in French and one in Spanish, then each year a new level will be added. 

The next goal of Le Monde is to hire teachers who are native speakers of French and Spanish, as well as a school principal who will also serve as executive director. 

While the installations are still a work in progress, the projects span a variety of mediums. Bréhier is constructing a project made of cardboard covered in plaster;  Rognon, a contemporary visual artist, is creating a video on “migration” wordplay; Gambini, an illustrator and painter, is creating a fantasy portrait of animals and pictures she has seen during her stay in Oklahoma.

“I like that my portraits look modern and ancient at the same time,” Gambini said. 

The event was sponsored by Fowler Auto Group, Republic Bank & Trust, The City of Norman, Kirkpatrick Foundation, Oklahoma Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts and La Baguette.

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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