UAF Visual Art Academy Stimulates Student Creativity | Latitude 65

During the first half of June, the art department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is abuzz with tweens and teens finding new ways to express their creativity.

The Visual Art Academy has been teaching students fashion design, painting, ceramics, metalwork, cartooning, photography, computer art and more for 15 years. Todd Sherman, artist and dean of the UAF College of Liberal Arts, started the academy after the UAF fine arts summer camp disappeared. “His stoppage left a big void in our community,” he said.

Sherman designed the academy so that students would have hands-on experiences creating studio and digital art in the university’s art studios. “They are taught by professional artists,” he said. “I want students to be safe and comfortable making art in a variety of media. These are two intense weeks of artistic creation.

Professional cartoonist Jamie Smith is a staple of the visual arts academy. “It’s like training camp,” he said. “You jump a rock on the surface of the bases. I hope they will be inspired.

Smith said that students who draw every day are bound to improve. “We have extremely talented people,” he said. It teaches character development, materials and technique, and students learn how to create simple panels and comic strips. Children learn to work together on collaborative projects and participate in timed exercises to stimulate creativity.

Max Gieser looked up after working on a cartoon to say, “This class is all about comics. It’s really cool.” Attending an art camp makes Gieser feel like an adult. “I’m taken seriously. Sometimes the art gets brushed off, but here it’s important.

In the metallurgy class, instructor Patty Carlson said she likes people to start as young as possible. “If they start pre-high school or high school, when they get to college they’re so much better prepared.”

Working with metal can be daunting due to the equipment required, such as torches, hammers and saw blades, but Carlson said the students accomplish a lot during camp. “They do a phenomenal job.”

River Ebbesson attended the academy of fine arts for three summers. “I can express myself,” she said. Pausing while making a bracelet, she said, “It’s been so eye-opening to me and I can be around inspiring people.”

Animation instructor Naomi Hutchens said, “It’s interesting how kids can learn complicated computer programs. “Even 11-year-olds; I can tell them once and they run with it.

Hutchens said she learns from her students by figuring out how to explain things to them. “Animation is such a slow process,” she said. “You compile the images, and then eventually you see the hard work coming together. You have to have patience, but there is a big payoff at the end and I really want them to see that patience pays off.

In the print shop, Hollin Priday keeps coming back to camp because she can make art that she can’t at home. “The instructors are so knowledgeable. We can improve in various art forms. This camp exposes teens to art forms they may not be familiar with and inspires us to make art we never would have done before.

Ceramics instructor Sara Hensel said this particular age group is crucial to reach. “Their critical voice sets in and keeping their hands in the clay is powerful.”

Hensel enjoys seeing the students learn coordination over the two weeks. “It’s like an art school. We open the fire station to them, and they produce more in two weeks than students do in a semester.

College student Hanna Rose Mason loves taking classes she’s never tried before. She studied ceramics, metalwork, painting and fashion design. “I diversify and have fun,” she says. “We have the opportunity to learn different types of disciplines in a camp and we have quality teachers. It opened my eyes wide.

Sherman is especially proud of the faculty at the art academy. “We are very fortunate to have instructors that include UAF art teachers, recent art graduates, and advanced art students. They all do professional work in their respective fields. Two summers ago, Eddie Rosas, a former UAF art student who was an assistant director and screenwriter for “The Simpsons,” taught animation. “Our instructors are accomplished artists and teachers,” Sherman said.

He added that the responses he receives from students and their parents are overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve had students continuing their art education in the UAF art program as well as other art schools nationwide,” he said. “Students have used the skills they learned here to open doors to possible employment opportunities. Several of Jamie Smith’s students later published their works in graphic novels and online comics websites.

The camp ends with an art exhibition held in the UAF Art Gallery. During this last evening, the room vibrates with excitement as the students proudly display their works to their loved ones.

“It’s inspiring and exciting to see so much being created in such a short time,” Sherman said.

Nancy Tarnai has been a freelance writer covering interior Alaskan lifestyles since 1995. She can be reached at [email protected]

Mildred D. Field