Brigantine Elementary School was transformed into an African Safari on the evening of June 6, taking its visitors on a journey through the continent as they walked through its corridors.

Each section of the school's hallways was designated as a different area of Africa - Ancient Egypt, West Africa, East Africa and South Africa - differentiated by the copious collection of student artwork hung from every inch of the walls and ceilings, more than 5,000 pieces in all, as well as the area-appropriate cultural food samplings provided by parent volunteers and the live musical performances by students who were dressed in cultural garb.

The event was Brigantine Elementary School's 22nd annual Arts Night, a schoolwide event led by art teacher Teri Gragg, with the assistance of music teacher Elaine King, who coordinates the musical component.

Each year the school chooses a different part of the world to focus on - last year was New Zealand - and based on the selection, the students spend the school-year learning about the art and culture of the place in preparation for the year-end arts events.

Visitors begin by entering into Ancient Egypt, near the front of entrance of the school, where a crew of students were presenting an Egyptian violinist performance led by music teacher Susan Elsayed, while surrounded by artwork displays of pyramids, hieroglyphics and canopic jars and food samples of Ful Medames, Koshardi and Basbousa.

With a turn of the corner, visitors were then transported to West Africa, full of handmade Akube dolls and African masks, with a student performance of "Twaingia," the welcome dance. Then off to South Africa for Zulu kites and an African chant and so forth.

In many ways, Arts Night is a communitywide event, said Brigantine resident Reita Bewley, who has been volunteering at Arts Night for longer than she can recall.

This year she was dressed as an Egyptian goddess.

"It's about family and community," Bewley said, as she helped a little girl write her name out in hieroglyphics, as the child's mother watched. "This is why I do it."

The event is sponsored by several community groups, including the Brigantine Elks, the American Legion, the Sons of the American Legion, the VFW Ladies and Men's Auxiliary, the Chamber of Commerce, the Brigantine School Board, Public Works, Police Department, Fire Department and countless community volunteers who, like Bewley, work the event.

Arts Night draws about 1,500 people each year, Gragg said, many of them students and their families, but also many community members who are not directly connected to the school, but want to see the amazing displays and performances.

Brigantine Middle School fifth-graders Kelly Nyman and Kelly Kline, who attended at the event, both said Art Night was one of the favorite parts of elementary school.

"It was really fun making all of the crafts and learning about the places," Nyman said. "I still have my art at home. I'm saving it."

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