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Art Beat

Sept. 23, 2004


The Art Academy


IF A PROGRAM LIKE HSU'S ART ACADEMY HAD BEEN AROUND WHEN my kids were growing up, I'd have signed them up in a heartbeat. After all, what could possibly be better than inexpensive Saturday art classes for kids from ages 5 to 17, taught in a university environment by credentialed art teachers?

Given the obvious benefits, I was a little surprised to learn that classes for the fall semester, which begin Saturday, aren't yet full. I imagine this oddity is due in part to the fact that many people don't know much about the program, so I went to the Art Academy's open house last Saturday to learn more.

The gathering took place in the main classroom in Humboldt State University's Art Department building. I got there early so I could talk to Juanita Duran Wilson, the program's director, before people started arriving. Wilson said she came on board in 1995, although the academy itself has been going strong since 1992. She is clearly enthusiastic about what the program has to offer kids.Photo of art academy instructors

"Our curriculum is structured around the visual-performing arts framework that California has established for its trained and credential teachers," she said. "Our teachers here are credentialed in art and education or are working toward that. We're all visual artists as well, [so] students get a very eclectic view of the visual arts because of [the] variety of interests and approaches."

[Photo, from left: Arupa Richardson, Janice Sharman-Hand, Jamie Atkinson and Juanita Duran Wilson.]

"The Exhibiting Artist" is the theme for the coming academic year. "We're theme-based in order to provide a form of organization around the academic year," Wilson explained. "Because we're only with the children once a week, it helps keep the momentum going." In keeping with this year's theme, Wilson said the students will study aesthetics, methods, materials and exhibition design.

Academy teachers use a broad approach to the teaching of aesthetics and fine art methods, including field trips to area art galleries and museums as well as classroom offerings. "We have our one little computer over there so we can use the Internet to access museums from around the world. One of our teachers, Karan Collenberg, also went to Europe this past spring and she's bringing in images to share."

The kids get to try out the methods they're learning. Janice Sharman-Hand, who has been teaching for the academy since 1995, noted students are supplied with good materials. "It's beyond crayons and construction paper. We get to work with real artists' materials here -- we're even doing three-dimensional work."

Academy students also have the opportunity to exhibit their work in real gallery settings. "We have an annual exhibit at the Reese Bullen Gallery on campus for two weeks each June," Wilson said. "We also have other shows throughout the area, mostly in Arcata, but also in Eureka. We've even shown at the Morris Graves Museum."

While everything about the program sounds great, I imagine taking a class at a university would be a terrific experience for a kid because it provides exposure to a higher academic setting. "The kids own it," laughed Wilson. "They become very comfortable here. They also get to see what adult students are putting up in the halls and galleries."

"It gets the kids thinking beyond where they are, thinking it's possible to do art professionally," added Sharman-Hand. "And thinking visually helps kids in other ways," she said noting research shows students with musical or art experience perform better academically.

Wilson said many parents enroll their kids year after year in the academy. Seeing children from as young as 5 and up to 17 "go through the program and meet these different teachers through their experience here really speaks to their willingness to be exposed to a variety of individuals," she said. "Real friendships and collaborations are formed between teachers and families. Some of the teachers remain friends with these kids and their parents long after they leave here."

I was able to witness these bonds between teachers and families firsthand when parents began arriving at the open house with their children. The teachers seemed to really come to life when the kids showed up. There were hugs all around and lots of chatter about summer vacations and upcoming lesson plans.

As I was leaving the open house, Janice Sharman-Hand summed it all up perfectly. "Don't you wish there had been a program like this back when we were kids?" she asked. Absolutely, I answered.

Art Academy classes meet in the fall term for eight consecutive Saturdays beginning Sept. 25. For more information, call Juanita Duran Wilson at 826-3819 or log on to the Academy's Web site at


October promises to be a good month to get out and see art. Here are a few highlights:

A.G. Edwards in Eureka will host a retrospective exhibition of the work of Brenda Tuxford, the beloved local artist and Ink People co-founder who died last month while on a visit to Amsterdam. The show will have an Arts Alive! opening Oct. 2.

Maskibition, an Ink People competition created by Brenda Tuxford 19 years ago, also opens on Oct. 2. This year's juror is Juanishi Orozco from Sacramento. Two Perspectives, a photography exhibition featuring E. Chris Wisner and Mairead Dodd, opens at The Ink People as well.

The Humboldt Arts Council's Annual Art Auction Exhibit opens on Arts Alive!, enabling the public to view and pre-bid on artwork and other auction items before the HAC's annual auction on Oct. 16.

Don't miss the 17th annual Pastels on the Plaza on Saturday, Oct. 2, on the Arcata Plaza. The event is a collaboration between businesses and artists and raises funds for the Northcoast Children's Center. It's a terrific event for the whole family.

Linda Mitchell can be reached via




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