By Allyson Oken
Studios on the Park and the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District have joined forces to provide free arts education to all students in the district for free. The first of a series of art exhibits featuring student work debuted Saturday, Nov. 14 at a reception during the downtown Paso Robles annual Elegant Holiday Evening.
According to PRJUSD Superintendent Chris Williams, the program has been in a state of evolution for the past six years. Williams explained that this partnership is really helping the district to provide a well-rounded arts education.
"We started with the Art Smart Program with our third-grade students about 6 years ago and Studios on the Park had been fundraising about $60,000 per year so our third-graders had access to art," Williams said. "After I met Anne Laddon, the founder, and Sasha Irving, the executive director, we developed a great partnership to expand the program. Ann came up with the idea to expand to offer the students a gallery and art studio space."
The project is funded through Kids Art Smart, a program at Studios On the Park that began in 2011 with a one-time grant. It has since evolved into a program that offers about 5,000 Paso Robles school district students free arts education.
Studios On the Park's artist in residence Helen K. Davie helped to raise the funds needed to make this project come to fruition at this year's SAVOR the Central Coast event by serving as the featured artist in the Artist Village. She explained that she was asked to design the poster for the event this year and that it was auctioned off to support arts education for youth in Paso Robles.
"The poster was auctioned off and all the proceeds went to support the Kids Art Smart program, through Studios on the Park," she said. "Through this organization we are able to provide art classes to all students in Paso Robles School District this year and the proceeds will go to supporting that. Some of us artist were talking the other day and we feel that anything of creativity, if it is nurtured, will help a person flourish in any career they choose. People need to be able to think creatively and if art can do that for a child that is fantastic.
Through this partnership PRJUSD students will be able to display their work, sell their work and sign up for a paid internship to learn the ins and outs of gallery management. It also offers parents access to see what their kids are doing.
"We are seeing our dream come to fruition tonight," Williams said at the opening of the first of many student art exhibits. "It is very exciting to have one of the only art studios that any district has at their disposal. Just having the chance to allow our students to work with world-renowned artists and learn the intricacies of being a fine artist professionally."
According to Williams the district's Visual and Performing Arts coordinator, Eileen Higgins, has put together a yearlong schedule. Each exhibit will feature artwork from elementary, middle, and high school students and run on a six-week rotation with themes.
These learning opportunities are open toâ€¨all Paso Robles Joint Unified School District students. Any students interested in joining the program should contact their art teacher or visit studiosonthepark.org/education/kids-art-smart.php to find out more about the program.â€¨