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ArtEscape: Building community through art

Posted on February 22, 2017 by Gina Cuclis

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Long time Springs’ residents Kate Ortolano and Thema Trystad are passionate that art has the ability to change lives, bring families together, and build community. The two retired art teachers are the driving force behind ArtEscape, the art education nonprofit located at 17474 Highway 12 in Fetters Hot Springs. Ortolano is ArtEscape’s board president and oversees its programs, and Trystad is its treasurer who handles ArtEscape’s finances.

Ortolano and Trystad are among of group of five art teachers who founded ArtEscape about five years ago. The others are Gayle Manfre, Janis Kobe, and Penny MacNaughton, who passed away a couple years ago. The bright, sunny classroom and gallery you walk into when you enter ArtEscape is named after MacNaughton. One of ArtEscape’s funders is MacNaughton’s charitable foundation.

“We saw there was a need for art education that needed to be fulfilled,” Ortolano said in a recent interview, describing the motivation behind creating ArtEscape.

“We wanted a place in the Springs where people could do art, and that would be affordable and accessible to all,” she said.

One of ArtEscape’s mottos is: “When school’s out, art’s in.” Besides providing art classes for children after school and on weekends, ArtEscape provides kids art days on school holidays such as the recent President’s Day holiday. ArtEscape also provides low cost summer camps.

While most of the classes have a fee, Ortolano and Trystad emphasize that no one is turned away for inability to pay. Class fees to cover youth who can’t pay are provided by the Sofia Katherine Dorr scholarship fund. Sofia was an emerging young artist. Her family and friends honor her memory and creative spirit by providing Sonoma Valley students the opportunity to express themselves through art.

ArtEscape is a short walking distance from Flowery Elementary School. This has made it possible for ArtEscape to share a grant with Flowery School to provide free, after school art classes for third, fourth and fifth graders on Wednesdays. The ArtEscape teachers walk to Flowery, pick the students up, walk them to ArtEscape, and then walk them back to Flowery after art class.

Access to participating in art is provided to other children in Sonoma Valley via ArtEscape’s art van, called Art Van Gough. A donation from Walsh Vineyard Management made purchase of the van possible, while a grant from Impact 100 covers the cost of taking the van to schools and other locations. ArtEscape board member and Springs resident Ken Winston is in charge of the art van program.

ArtEscape’s classes span a wide variety. Drawing, beginning crochet, sock dolls, coiled thread basket, spray paint, Tyvek pouch, and creative writing are some of the subjects taught. A visiting artist from Peru, Mark Wangberg, is teaching a two-day collograph printmaking class Feb. 25 and 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Visit the website, artescapesonoma.com to learn more about the classes and to register.

Thanks to a grant from the Gellert Foundation, ArtEscape starting March 26, will offer the second in a series of free, Sunday afternoon bi-lingual family art classes. The classes provide an opportunity for parents and children to learn together about art materials and techniques, interact with other families, and build a sense of pride in themselves and their community. The classes are from 1 to 3 p.m. and run weekly through June 4.

Besides being a location to learn about art, ArtEscape also trains artists to teach art. This includes training youth on how to teach. As highly experienced art educators, Ortolano and Trystad have a knack for identifying teens that would be good at teaching art to younger children.

One such young artist, and now an ArtEscape teacher, is Sonoma Valley High School senior Liam Handron. He is also on ArtEscape’s board of directors. For his senior project, Handron is organizing an exhibit at ArtEscape of high school student’s artwork. The exhibit opens April 1 with a reception and will run two months.

Because ArtEscape is mostly a volunteer labor of love by retired art teachers — the organization has no executive director and only two part-time staff members — the board is currently working on a long-range plan to ensure ArtEscape is sustainable.

Ortolano said, “We’re interested in anybody who supports providing art for all to contact us.” You can reach her at [email protected] or 938.5551.

Photo: ArtEscape’s mobile art studio, designed by graphic designer Ken Winston, at left, and coordinated by Melissa Plume, at the wheel, ‘brings art to the kids’ in Sonoma Valley.



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