Joanne Girmonde is reinventing herself through art.
The Queen Creek empty-nester signed up for art classes a month ago, and already she has a small collection of work under her belt and a new lightness of spirit.
“I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, and I went to art school, but I became a stay-at-home mom and got away from it,” she says, as she works over a small watercolor painting at Blackbird Music and Art Center in Queen Creek. “I didn’t come here to get into any art shows or sell my work. I came to restart creativity in my life and to be around creative people.”
Girmonde is one of six adults enrolled in Blackbird’s Thursday-morning open studio session, when artists in training sit around a bright room bursting with art supplies, concentrating over acrylic paintings, sketches and other projects. Instructor Melody Smith offers help when needed, and everyone bounces ideas off each other and chit-chats to a soundtrack of coffehouse-style music playing low in the background.
Opened in 2008 by husband-and-wife team Robb and Melody Smith (a professional musician and former art teacher and commercial art director, respectively) the 3,000-square-foot center is devoted to helping children and adults pursue their creative passions.
It offers music and voice lessons, training in performance theater, and art classes. There’s also a glee club, a “School of Rock” program — where kids enrolled in music lessons work toward forming their own bands and performing at gigs all over town — and a monthly open mic night.
Blackbird is one of a handful of private art spaces to open in the East Valley, each aiming to help casual dabblers and bona fide artists take their creativity into their own hands.
“We want to reach out to everybody, from freshmen in high school all the way up to people up into their 80s and beyond,” says Tracy Schacht, instructor at Studio 1307 in Tempe. “We’re not technically an art school, but we teach drawing and painting, from the fundamentals way up into the more advanced. On top of that, we offer this environment we call ‘Open Studios,’ where you come in and you just get a chance to create artwork.”
Schacht opened Studio 1307 in January with Valley artist Michael Maczuga, also an instructor. Studio time includes drawing horses, easels, live models and a $12,000 lighting system capable of creating an array of effects; drop-in visitors bring their own drawing or painting materials.
Another newly opened space, Art Intersection in downtown Gilbert, is also attracting people itching to express their creativity.
A gallery and workspace devoted to the preservation of photography and its roots, it also offers classes for adults on topics like creative writing and crafts.
Owner Alan Fitzgerald says while some of Art Intersection’s more advanced programming appeals to experienced artists, much of it is meant to welcome untrained people with a creative side, people who “work day jobs but are looking for a creative outlet.”
“We’re not at the parks-and-rec level, and we’re not at the high-end, museum level. We really want to be a part of the people and be approachable and accessible for everyone,” Fitzgerald says.
Art Intersection plans to open a photography dark room, digital imaging lab and large classroom later this spring, where instructors will offer more workshops in things like printing methods and digital storytelling.
At Blackbird, where the lounge is packed most weekday afternoons and Saturdays with kids doing homework before lessons and parents waiting on children to exit guitar, drum or songwriting sessions, the Smiths want to provide training for children whose school art and music programs may have been scaled back or cut altogether, and for adults looking to take their hobby to a new place.
“Whatever it is they’re into, whatever it is they’re passionate about and that lights up their creativity, we’re always finding ways to help them take it to the next level, whether it’s entering their first art show or putting on a performance at open mic night or a recital, or playing a real gig somewhere for the first time in their own band,” says Melody Smith.
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