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Thousands flock to ARTescape


Early in 2012, a group of local working artists decided to take a leap of faith.

On the premise that, if you build it, they will come, Thena Trygstad, Janis Kobe, Gayle Manfre, Penny MacNaughton and Kate Ortolano decided to create a nonprofit program, called Artescape Sonoma, to provide professional, free or low-cost art instruction to students in underserved neighborhoods. So they rented space in a cottage on Highway 12 in Boyes Hot Springs, opened the doors, and people came. Lots of people.

“Sonoma has a long history as a vibrant art community, but there was a void in Boyes Hot Springs.” explained Ortolano. “This is a densely populated area so we have the potential to reach a great number of students and their families.” And the students have come. More than 1,300 children and teens and almost 500 adults have participated in ARTescape programs since its inception.

In fact, in August, the nonprofit announced an expansion, now renting its entire building at 17474 Highway 12. A new executive director was named as well. RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) graduate and working artist Jean Prominski, will both run the day-to-day operations and teach classes.

Students who arrive at the studio expecting crayons and watercolors are shocked by the array of mediums offered in ARTescape’s classes: book arts, paper arts, calligraphy, photography, cartooning, recycled and upcycled art, encaustic painting, sculpture, floor cloths, mosaics and more.

In addition to programs held at their sunny and welcoming studio, ARTescape has been a big supporter of art in the schools since day one. In July, it hosted an all-day workshop of curriculum-based art projects for teachers. A half-dozen local teachers showed up for this free program.

ARTescape offers after-school classes to Flowery Elementary School students and its instructors travel to El Verano Elementary School to provide art instruction on-site. The organization also works closely with the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation, and has been the recipient of a Plein Air grant for the last two years. The Rose Marie Piper Foundation has been very supportive of its youth programming, sponsoring free teen workshops throughout the year.

In conjunction with the Arts Guild of Sonoma, ARTescape also offers a popular mentoring program. Throughout the year, ARTescape identifies students who would like to learn various mediums, explained Prominski. “We match those students with a local artist for a specific project, and then their pieces are on display in the Arts Guild each September.” That show opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5.

In addition to art classes, ARTescape offers demonstration, exhibitions, special events, summer camps, student shows, teaching apprenticeships and adult workshops. Fifty students, ages 4 to 18, participated in camps last summer. Local artists also rent the studio to hold classes, workshops and lectures.

Financial donations to cover art supplies, operating costs and scholarships are always needed and, right now, ARTescape is seeking some specific items as well: a book press, a board shearer, a digital projector and a table-top printing press. Earlier this month, a San Francisco artist lent ARTescape a kiln, and classes in fused glass, glass jewelry, glass casting and glass bead making are now planned. Prominski has a master’s of fine arts degree in glass, and said, “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce this material to the community.”

Up next is a Family Night Plastilina, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 19. Parents are invited to bring their children to sculpt miniature figurines. The cost is $25 for a family of four. In October, ARTescape will host a series of Day of the Dead events, starting with a $5 altar workshop from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25, a free workshop on Sunday, Nov. 1, and an open house on Wednesday, Nov. 5. Families can sign up for classes or register to receive ARTescape’s email newsletter at ARTescapesonoma.com.