Art duJour re-tools the art of learning—and paints it yellow
How may times have you said to yourself, “Santa Cruz would be great if only there was a place to learn about beekeeping, watch movies in the backyard, decorate my bicycle helmet and take in some splendid local artworks—all under one roof. And it should be yellow.”
Well, you’ve said that for the last time, bub, because now there is such a place, and they are calling it Art duJour.
“They” are Heather Young and Christine Currie, two moms (a teacher and a marketing consultant) who have managed to coax a common dream out of the ether and will it to materialize in our midst. That dream was to create a space and fuel the momentum for a nonprofit arts-education program for adults and children. And it was to be inspiring, community-oriented, and inviting.
“We wanted people to feel like it was a place where they could just drop in,” said Young, to someone who had just dropped in.
Art duJour is in a cheerful, sunny-yellow two-story building on Cedar Street, one block and a million miles away from Pacific Avenue. Setting foot on the walkway leading to the porch feels kind of like visiting a neighor, but one who’s way hipper than any neighbor you’re likely to have. Seriously, how many of your neighbors have 12-foot-high found-object sculptures in their driveway, built by kids and inspired by a haiku? Only a few, right?
Young is one of those crafty teachers who slips a lot of learning under the radar when kids are under the impression that they are actually enjoying themselves. So when their parents are in the outdoor studio (the backyard) learning how to raise bees, the kids are inside making bee art, cutting out paper, scrunching up tissue and gluing cotton balls into place—but they’re also talking about the parts of a flower, learning insect anatomy, and even evaluating some works by Georgia O'Keeffe.
“She does a great job of tricking them into doing science and math,” said Currie, who was passing through to the foyer, which has been transformed into an art gallery for local talent. (The current exhibit features Tannery Art Center artist and sculptor-in-residence Stephen Lynch, and is called “Mind’s Eye: Cerebral Work for the Creative Class.” Pretty inspiring—if you’re into inspiration.)
And then there’s that haiku. The particular three-line poem at the heart of the sculpture in Art duJour’s driveway was about a tin can, some daisies and a garbage can, if you can believe it. Before they commenced sculpting, the group of 9- to 14-year-olds reflected on the haiku, envisioned their visions, discussed their discussions, and finally agreed on a plan with artistic wiggle room. Then they proceeded to pick through a pile of junk that had been hauled in from the dump and spread out on the driveway.
“I always try to put some meat and potatoes into what we’re doing. I want to make sure that what they’re doing has relevance to the community, like issues of ‘reuse, repurpose and recycle,’ that sort of concept, to make it valid for their personal experience,” said Young.
The kids had only four hours to turn all that garbage into an art du jour, because the city-and business-sponsored First Friday Art Walk was soon to begin; people will be out and about, and most will be hoping to see at least one haiku-shaped sculpture while they’re down here, right?
“We must have had 200 people that came through,” said Young, who was recalling the evening while sitting in a dining-room-turned-art space, surrounded by buttons, brushes, paints and other art materials.
With a deadline upon them, the kids, mentored by local artist Edward Martinez, used power tools and adhesive to secure a number of objects to metal scaffolding. Some of the stuff included discarded 45s (“And the Beat Goes On,” “Sao Paul,” “Straight Outta Compton”), Christmas lights, plastic ferns and berries, redwood branches and a Whitman’s chocolate sampler tin. All from the dump.
The First Night audience approved, and provided the young artists with confidence and feedback. An art project that could have been like any other art project suddenly had a context, a purpose and community impact, said Young.
“These kids got to see people come through here and comment on what they had done. They thought it was cool, way cool, that their creation was on display for everyone to see—that it has an impact. And they could talk about that with people who are really interested.”
And that’s one thing that has set her work at Art duJour in a different league from what she’s able to impart at school.
“I think it’s important to have kids understand the bigger purpose of what they are doing,” she said. “I want them to feel that they can create something that has an impact that’s going beyond the classroom.”
It’s not all kid stuff, though. There’s that backyard beekeeping class, for instance. Adults studied the steps to harvesting their own honey, but also learned more about the plight of the world’s bee population and how the community benefits by nurturing local swarms.
In August there was a Burning Man workshop for teens and adults; a class in making hand-built clay bowls, cups and treasure boxes taught by Jeanette Jennings of Firecat Pottery; and a “Girls Night” that included wine, hors d’oeuvres and glass-bead stringing.
This month there’s a book club discussion and a showing of Cinema Paradiso, and in October is the aforementioned First Friday Art Walk. Just to name a few activities.
Also in October is another Junk Art Scramble series, mentored again by Martinez. The five, two-hour classes take place Oct. 10-14. There’s a list of events, and fees, at Art duJour’s website, artdujour.org.
Young and Currie, both moms of autistic kids, met in a school carpool, and eventually gave form to Art duJour after discussing their concerns about what public schools aren’t providing for their kids. While Young supports public schools, she also says that with budget cuts and crowded classrooms, there is a “hunger for education” in the community.
One segment of the public-school population they are reaching out to is homeschoolers. A five-day-a-week course offers assistance in home school core art curriculum projects, as well as in mission projects and science projects.
Another class beginning later this month is an after-school mural and theater workshop for kids 12 and up.
“We like to think that a year from now we’d be able to teach classes for the public school system, plugged into the curriculum and being able to make that fun and interesting, and certainly educational,” said Young.
“It’s always slim pickings in terms of supplies (at public school),” said Currie. “We wanted to provide a wealth of material, and show it doesn’t have to cost a lot. That sculpture out there? That was made of junk,” said Currie.
Plus three lines of haiku.
Art duJour is located at 1013 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, 621-0672.
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