PORTLAND (AP) – Yoko Ono plans to offer encouragement to Maine College of Art students at their graduation Saturday, and says artists have as vital a role in society as ever.

Ono, 70, will be the keynote speaker at the Maine College of Art commencement at Merrill Auditorium, where nearly 100 students will receive degrees.

“It’s a very important time for artists, and the role in society for them is very important,” Ono said Monday in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “I think it has to do with communicating ideas and adding something to society.”

Ono was selected by graduating seniors to speak at commencement. She is perhaps best known for being married to the late John Lennon, the ex-Beatle who was shot to death in 1980.

But Ono has been involved in painting, drawing, sculpting, photography and film for more than 40 years. “Yes Yoko Ono,” a retrospective of her paintings, music and memorabilia of her peace efforts with Lennon, exhibited in seven cities two years ago.

Audrey Phillips, a senior at Maine College of Art from Syracuse, N.Y., said students are excited that Ono is coming to speak. She called Ono’s art “amazing” and is particularly impressed with how Ono incorporates her messages of peace and hope into her work.

Phillips said she too tries to integrate her beliefs into her work and recently created seed packets that read “Bombs Kill Baby Plants” on one side in protest of the war on Iraq. She has also created artwork that opposes oil drilling in the Arctic and supports the use of biodiesel fuel.

“It’s a small school, so it’s good that she’s coming,” Phillips said. “It’s bringing a lot of attention to the school, which is good in some ways.”

The only concern among students is that too much will be made about Ono’s appearance, and that will take away from the students, she added.

Ono said she has spoken at only one other school graduation, but has lectured at many art schools nationally.

She said her speech will focus on encouraging the graduates in their pursuits.

Maine College of Art President Christine Vincent said the school had a “Yes In” day of activities in April dedicated to Ono’s work.

Ono’s presence is already bringing added attention to the school. About 1,500 people are expected for the graduation, triple the attendance of last year.

“It shines the light on the importance of educating artists and ultimately the importance of artists in society today,” Vincent said.


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