By Erie Vitiello
On a recent Saturday, I saw the Art Center in action as a truly intergenerational community for exploring and enjoying the arts.
Sunlight streamed through the high windows in the atrium, where parents waiting outside their children’s classrooms had fired up their laptops at our new bistro tables, sipping coffee provided by Common Grounds. In the clay room, adult students were working on projects during open studio time.
Music wafted throughout the building, and when I saw the shoes lined up outside the studio where “Music Together” was in session — large loafers that could only belong to dads next to tiny sandals and every size in between — I couldn’t resist taking a peek inside. There they were: dads and moms and caregivers sitting cross-legged in a loose circle, some with babies bouncing in their laps, while toddlers and older siblings weaved around the room dancing their own enthusiastic choreography.
Everyone was singing or clapping or shaking a percussion instrument, and all were engaged with the music they were making together and with each other.
Across the hall, rehearsal for Davis Art Center ballet students’ holiday production of “The Nutcracker” was in progress. I slipped inside the door to watch and found that there were more than 50 students of all ages in the studio — the youngest about 4 and the oldest sporting more than a few gray hairs.
All had lined up in no particular order to see who could do the highest leaps across the floor. The sense of excitement and camaraderie in the room was palpable, as boys and girls, young and old, principal dancers along with rats and snowflakes and parents playing party scene dancers took up the challenge. Everyone was smiling and applauding each other’s efforts — whether it was a soaring, graceful leap or a basketball-style high jump.
At a break, Hanneke Lohse, the ballet teacher, pulled me aside. “I don’t often mix age and skill levels like this,” she told me, “but it’s valuable to do sometimes. Everyone does the job to the best of their ability, and it’s good for the young ones to see the example of the older ones that they can aspire to.”
Later, as I walked through “Different Strokes: Light and Shadow,” our current art exhibit, I reflected on how our gallery plays a similar role. It’s important for our young students who take classes here to see the example of grown-up artists, to see what they can aspire to.
At the same time, by regularly alternating shows by professional artists with shows by schoolchildren, we celebrate the creative spirit in everyone. At the Davis Art Center, everyone can be an artist — or a musician or a ballet dancer — to the best of their ability.
As it happens, all seven of the adult artists whose work is being shown in “Light and Shadow” are former students of the Art Center. At the reception for the show I stood with artist Gai Perry and Art Center instructor Philippe Gandiol. Philippe told us how proud he was to see how his former students have progressed as artists — become who they aspired to be.
“We couldn’t have done it without you,” Gai said. “No, you did it,” Philippe replied. “I just opened the door.”
Open the door: that is what we want to do for all of our participants, whether they are young or old, just starting their artistic explorations or with a lifetime of experience. Every day I see the door to creativity opening in our classrooms, just as I did that Saturday.
Join us — and we’ll open the door for you.
— Erie Vitiello is executive director of the Davis Art Center. This column is published monthly.