Ah Haa: Growth (And Growing Pains)

Ah Haa: Growth (And Growing Pains)

Full classes, new staff mean growth (and growing pains) for Telluride’s Ah Haa School for the Arts. Become a friend of Ah Haa, donate here, and provide scholarships to over 500 adults and children; cover 50% of the costs associated with classes, including instructor fees and art materials; support exhibitions of regional artists; furnish studio spaces, purchase equipment and maintain historic facilities; and enable community collaborations and special public events. Support Ah Haa by attending its New Year Eve Gala, 5:30 – 10 p.m., featuring artists Rob Schultheis and Sam Levy, with dinner by Josh Klein of Bouille Catering. Call Kathleen Cole at (970)728-3886 to reserve your seat or purchase a table. And become a member.

ah haa group photo


“Ah Haa is literally bursting at the seams,”says Ah Haa School for the Arts curriculum director, Jessica Newens, reflecting on the community art center’s past year of programming.

The school’s curriculum has steadily grown over the last three years; enough so that the school has hired an additional staff member to focus solely on adult curriculum. Meanwhile, Newens’ primary focus has shifted to youth curriculum, the sector where the school has seen its most pronounced growth.

“Summer kids’ classes were nearly at capacity this past summer, with sometimes five classes going on simultaneously. We barely had room for adult classes, forcing us to make insanely fast room switches between classes or use off-site locations,” says Newens.

Julee Hutchison's oil painting classes for adults.

Julee Hutchison’s oil painting classes for adults.

Ah Haa’s summer kids classes saw a 40 percent increase in 2015. Some summer highlights included acting classes taught by Hateful Eight supporting actor Keith Jefferson; new screen printing and enameled jewelry classes; and a variety of workshops directed at teens.

Several times, to make up for limited room options within its historic Depot building, Ah Haa borrowed space from Alpine Chapel, Telluride Christian Fellowship, and a few local homes and utilized a 10×20 EZ Up tent as a spare classroom on its patio all summer long. Without a dedicated adult painting space for Robert Weatherford’s ongoing Painting From Within classes, more than a few times staff was forced to clear his classroom in just 30 minutes to set up for an entirely different class.

“We worked our interns hard last summer!” says Newens, describing how Ah Haa’s entire staff, including six summer interns, would jump in to re-set classrooms.

Shortly after purchasing the Depot in 2007, Ah Haa completed a major phase of renovation, focusing on making the building ADA compliant and creating administrative offices and two gallery spaces. Since then, Ah Haa has made due with its basement rooms as classroom spaces in the hope of eventually embarking on a second renovation to expand and improve its art studios – not to mention the building’s deteriorating infrastructure and years of deferred maintenance.

“We love this historic building, but it needs some TLC, and we need some more space,” says Newens.

While there is no timeline in place to embark on a renovation, Ah Haa is making the best use of its building as it continues to grow and thrive. The school’s current focus is adult programming, with the intention of offering more diverse, innovative and cutting-edge programming.

“Last spring we hired a super talented woman – Kris Kwasniewski – formerly the program coordinator for Brown University’s Creative Arts Council,” explains Newens. “Kris dove right in and came up with some new and interesting courses. She’s even revamped our ceramics open studio program.”

Zombie class

Zombie class

This fall, Ah Haa began offering condensed wheel-and-glazing sessions with designated open studio hours in between. The goal is to grow the school’s ceramics community, which has been lagging for some years. It appears these shorter, more affordable classes are a hit, with the first two sessions selling out within one week.

“We were blown away by the response. Now our only obstacle is space, since we only have room for eight wheels and limited shelf space for clay storage,” continues Newens.

On Kwasniewski’s roster for adult winter classes are some familiar offerings: Beginning Burlesque, Open Figure Studio, Painting From Within, Batik, Spanish, and Literary Burlesque.

Additional offerings include Figurative Sculpture with Kevin McCarthy; Three Rings Project with Tracey Belt; The Fun of Philosophy with Paul Evans; Mark Making with Ilze Aviks; and Intro to Abstraction with Pinkney Herbert, among others.

Ying Li Telluride Painting School class

Ying Li Telluride Painting School class

New this winter, Ah Haa is offering a program called “Free for All”: the community is invited to try out a medium such as printmaking or mixed media collage through a free evening class. And Kwasniewski is also introducing a series of “master classes,” featuring a Friday evening lecture, Saturday workshop, and Sunday critique taught by a noteworthy visiting artist. Eventually, Kwasniewski dreams of offering large-scale classes like bike building or sculpture workshops – even on-site metals classes.

“Kris is infusing our programming with freshness and variety, and coming up with great and affordable ways to attract newcomers,” adds Newens, promising an action-packed winter at Ah Haa.

 “It is so gratifying to welcome new students here, and to see familiar faces coming back again and again. This is why Ah Haa is here – to serve, to inspire, and to cultivate a community of artists.”

For more information on Ah Haa or to register for a class, visit www.ahhaa.org.

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