Caked in clay, elementary and middle school students shaped beige bowls from piles of sludge on pottery wheels in a Saxe Middle School art room last Wednesday night.

Sitting at a pottery wheel for the first time, Sarah Bazata, 10, tried to shape a bowl.

"I'm going to Saxe next year and wanted to see what [the art classes] are like," she said.

The pottery class was one of several open studios last week. Hosted by Saxe art teachers and New Canaan Public Schools' Visual and Performing Arts Department, the evening was part of a month-long project to introduce students and parents to the school's art curriculums.

Department chairman Alan Sneath said the showcase is an effort to get the word out to families about the creative work students do in performing and visual arts classes.

Art teacher Andrea Levai, who helped plan the event, said the evening targeted parents more than students.

"Sometimes parents think that art is there just to kind of space things out between the really important subjects -- it's not true," she said. "And once they come to see this, they appreciate it. We're preparing them for the 21st century. This might be somebody's job in the future, and we want to make sure they're prepared."

The night drew more students than adults. Cody Rilling, 10, said he came out solely to try out the pottery wheel.

"This is only for eighth graders, usually," he said.

Saxe art teacher Maggie Pennoyer offered a helping hand to several elementary school students as they learned how to shape pottery.

"They're just beginning and just giving it a try, so they might not end up making anything," she said. "This is actually something that takes a lot of practice. Tonight they're just experimenting and having fun."

In a neighboring classroom, art teacher Deb Bennett showed students how to create recycled art from household odds and ends.

"If starts off just rolling up old magazine pages, but with that you can create cool pencil holders, vases and placemats," she said, rolling old National Geographic magazine pages into sturdy tubes. "What's cool is that you can take pretty much any recyclable and make anything. Pretty much whatever you can imagine, you can make."

Nichole Badie, 9, said she came out to the arts festival to earn a stamp on her Visual and Performing Arts festival passport.

Art teachers throughout the district distributed passports to students, encouraging them to become ambassadors of the arts by attending multiple arts open house nights.

"If you go to seven, you get a prize," said Badie, folding magazine pages into a skirt for a decorative angel.

Levai said if students enjoyed themselves and just one parent discovered the importance of what the students do in art class, the night was a success.

"Even the parents whose kids go here sometimes don't know what really goes on in the art rooms: contemplation [and] higher-order thinking," she said. "It's not just coming in and smearing paint on a piece of paper. But the parents sometimes have to see that and experience that. That's what this is all about."