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Art Center provides community with opportunities to connect, be creative

Photo by Olivia Atkinson

As I swing open a pair of heavy glass doors, I am greeted by walls of vibrant color. 

In front of me, neon papers adorn an exhibition on el Día de los Muertos. To my left, bright pink shines behind a mural of a middle-aged man painted in black and white. 

A hallway leads to rooms full of supplies and art studios. The smell of drying clay and oil paints fills the air. 

I can feel the buzz of creativity around me, from the finished exhibitions to the young artists busily working.

This is the Palo Alto Art Center: home to art exhibitions, after-school classes, studio sessions, art events, volunteer opportunities and more. Here, students of all ages interact with the Art Center.

Senior Roxana Reid said this place allows her to find room for art without the constraints of elective periods at school.

“Visual art was never something that I could fit into my school schedule,” Reid said. “I feel grateful I have a chance, every couple of weeks, to come in and get out of my head and experiment with art.”

In addition to making room for art, Youth and Teen Education Coordinator Taryn Curiel said the Art Center fosters a sense of community.

“People come and see the exhibition and the projects, so they are involved with art (at a young age),” Curiel said. “It builds community and helps connect art with people.”

Director of Volunteer Engagement Rebecca Passarello said the combination of exhibit and classroom creates engaging experiences for students because programs allow them to learn from live examples and even speak to the artist in person.

“Almost all of our teachers, at some point during their class, will take their students to the exhibit and point out pieces of art so the students can see what artists have done, look for themes or similarities and ask questions,” Passarello said.

Additionally, Curiel said a major benefit of the Art Center is its vast resources. Students can experiment with a wide range of mediums and art forms that might not be available to them elsewhere.

“(The Art Center) has more variety and a wider range of (resources) than what a private class or school will have,” Curiel said. “We have a huge printer, so (students) can experiment with a new technique (in printmaking). They can do comics. We have a class for fashion design.”

Reid said the stress-free environment of the Art Center makes it easier for students to get creative with their art as opposed to making compositions for graded school assignments.

“There’s more freedom and less pressure when the project doesn’t revolve around a grade,” Reid said. “When you don’t feel like your work is going to be quantified or judged, you can be a little more creative and you have some liberty.”

Freshman Geneva Gadda agreed and said unlike taking art classes in school, she feels more relaxed at the Art Center.

“It’s a way to not feel pressured to be absolutely perfect,” Gadda said. “In (school), even if it’s just a fun thing, it can sometimes feel like a competition. Here, it feels like we’re all doing our own thing and supporting each other (in) our shared community of people who like ceramics.”

Curiel said the most important thing the Art Center does is create a space for students to explore their creativity.

“Creativity is a muscle,” Curiel said. “Art opens creativity. Imagination opens a way for (students) to express themselves and gives them tools to have them open their minds to all the possibilities out there.”

Paly art teacher Tracey Atkinson said learning and doing art allows students to see things from a different perspective.

“It is a way to see the world a little differently, to expand your own knowledge of what you’re capable of,” Atkinson said.

In the end, Reid said her favorite part about the Art Center is that it offers students the opportunity to do art and be creative.

“It is accessible to people all around the area, for any age regardless of past experience,” Reid said. “You can surprise yourself with your own ability in something new. Students from PAUSD especially should be encouraged to go outside of their comfort zones and try new things, especially the visual arts, and just see if they enjoy it.”

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Olivia Atkinson
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