Celebrating creativity and community at the Canvas

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

We hear the words community and creativity so often in Juneau and read them so often on these pages that they tend to lose their meaning - similar to how the word "the" becomes a useless sound when said over and over.

Courtesy Of The Canvas
Courtesy Of The Canvas

But you just can't talk about the Canvas Art Studio without making use of both those words: like a Venn diagram of intersecting circles, the downtown art studio occupies the space where community and creativity overlap. A visit to the facility is a vivid reminder of what those words mean in practice.

As most local art lovers know, the Canvas offers day habilitation art classes for REACH, a local nonprofit that serves people who experience disabilities, as well as evening classes open to everyone. Neither of these offerings is unusual on its own; however, what is innovative about the Canvas is that it offers both under the same roof, bringing artists from both user groups together in the common pursuit of making art.

As REACH artist Gina Frickey said earlier this week, "Everything is basically creative in here."

The atmosphere in the studio Monday was one of industriousness and concentration, but also of levity. Three REACH artists worked on centerpieces for this weekend's Chef Stef dinner and fundraiser, with teaching artist Barbara Lydon and Jesuit Volunteer Chelsea O'Neill, chatting and laughing as they worked. The centerpieces, mutli-stemmed flower vases made of clay and painted in bright glazes, will be among the items for sale at Saturday's event, as will fish-shaped vases. Frickey said the firing process and the glaze they used ensures the vases will be watertight. Working with clay is among her favorite activities when she's at the Canvas.

"I love the pottery studio here. You can do anything you want to do," Frickey said with a grin. "You're not just doing one thing, you're doing hundreds of different things in the studio, and it's all different and it's all so sweet and cool."

Frickey worked as a teaching artist at Glacier Valley Elementary School's Clay Club last year and was looking forward to doing it again this year. Working in the schools is one of the ways the Canvas facilitates connections outside the walls of the studio.

"We do what I call art catering," program developer MK MacNaughton said. "We can work with any group, social service agency or school, and set up a visit so people can learn about what we do."

In addition to outreach programs, the Canvas also connects REACH artists with local groups in collaborative projects.

REACH artist Melanie Adams said she participated in last year's production of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," with Shona Strauser of Perseverance Theatre.

"I was in a play, and MK was there too. And she helped me with my cue," Adams said.

Adams said her role was a sheep, but she was unable to make the performance.

"Guess who filled in for me when I was the sheep? Her name is Tammy Birch," she said, reaching back for Birch's hand. "She's my BFF."

"Yes! I was a sheep for her," Birch confirmed.

In addition to acting, Adams enjoys illustrating, oil painting and jewelry.

"I made some birthday presents for my cousin," Adams said. "Her birthday is on December 12 and I made something very special for her. I made her earrings, a necklace and a new hat."

LIke the array of evening classes, the day habilitation classes cover a broad range of art forms. REACH artists also delve into the culinary and musical arts.

Birch is enthusiastic about the music offerings, and said "In the Jungle" is one of her favorites. After some gentle encouragement from Adams, Birch demonstrated her favorite part of the song, a trumpeting elephant sound, eliciting whoops of approval and laughter from the rest of the group.

Birch also enjoys the pottery studio, drawing, painting and beading, and was recently commissioned to create a sign for a local resident's yard.

Saturday's fundraiser will help supplement funding for scholarships for the day habilitation program, to ensure it remains open to all interested artists. MacNaughton said a major goal of the facility is not to turn anyone away.

"We are dedicated to finding funding to ensure that everyone who wants to come, can come," she said.

Though the day habilitation classes are at this time open only to artists who experience disabilities, the evening classes are open to all artists. The cost of the evening classes helps offset the costs of running the day habilitation program, as well as paying professional teaching artists who teach the classes.

Lydon, who has worked in both the day habilitation classes and evening classes since the Canvas opened in 2006, said the Canvas is always grateful for donations of art materials, noting that one of the wheels in the pottery studio was a donation.

"Little things to big things, everything is so appreciated," Lydon said.

Artists of all types are volunteering their time to make Saturday's fundraiser happen. Chef Stef, otherwise known as Stefanie Marnon, will be cooking a Mexican dinner of posole, cornbread, salad and cookies for the crowd. Local artists Barbara Craver, Jackie Manning, Chris Taylor, Arnie Weimer and several REACH artists will be setting up a live portrait studio that will run throughout the evening, offering different takes on the form. Flute quartet Flutations, made up of Sandy Fortier, Lisa Ray, Kim Mix and Stevi Spinka, will provide musical entertainment for the evening. And many auction items have been donated by the community, as well as beer from the Alaskan Brewing Co.

For more information, visit www.canvasarts.org.

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