SARANAC LAKE — When one door closes, another opens. In the case of three local women, that new door will lead into a new art school.
Jessica Ackerson, Julia Csanko and Brittany Sternberg had long dreamed of teaching art classes, but when the pandemic hit, they thought the idea would be delayed even further. Hence the closed door.
“COVID hit and all dreams were shelved,” said Sternberg, who holds an art degree but spent the last decade working at Coakley’s hardware store, most recently as store manager.
Instead, the pandemic became a catalyst, and when the three friends — and now business partners — found a location in downtown Saranac Lake, they knew they had to go for it.
So a few weeks ago they signed the lease on the former Northeast Taekwondo studio on Main Street and started moving in art supplies. Their studio, ADK ArtRise, plans to start holding fundraising classes next month and open to the public in January.
“This is what I went to school for,” said Sternberg on a recent morning as the three gathered to discuss their school. “This is what I wanted to do when I grew up.”
Ackerson, who spent a decade working at Nori’s grocery in Saranac Lake, also went to art school. Csanko was the art coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe. Together the trio are designing a school for a wide range of ages, from a pre-school class called “Me and My Grown-up” to mixed media classes for teenagers and adults.
There will be guest teacher series, sip-and-paint classes for “artaholics,” “artability” classes for disabled students, classes designed specifically for women focusing on power tools and knot-tying (taught by Ackerson’s father, a retired forest ranger), Japanese dying clases, silkscreen classes and even classes for role-playing games.
“Dungeons and Dragons is kind of having a renaissance,” said Ackerson.
“Construction is creative. Some of our categories are broad genres,” said Csanko, whose mother was a Bronx art teacher. “I’ve been doing arts my whole life,” she said.
The 1,900-square-foot location has a front studio space with great light and polished wood floors, room for separate classes and storage space, and a basement where there are long-term plans for a darkroom.
“We wanted to be really innovative,” said Ackerson. The pandemic actually helped the women realize how much art classes are needed, as many schools have curtailed their art offerings while distance-learning.
“Right now, there are a lot of grades who aren’t getting art education,” said Ackerson. “We’re not necessarily going to fill the gap, especially during COVID, but if kids are interested, they’ll find their way to us.”
People of all ages have also been stuck at home. “Everyone is looking at Pinterest and dreaming,” she said.
Among those stuck at home are folks with disabilities, for whom art instruction can take on a huge importance. Between Franklin and Essex counties, the women note, there are more than 1,500 people with disabilities.
“There are not a lot of places for people with disabilities to go” even before the pandemic, said Csanko. She describes the artability classes as a forum for the art instructors to meet disabled students at their level to help them create.
Another advantage of opening a school during a pandemic is that safety measures will be built into the system rather than retrofitted. ADK ArtRise will follow the same regulations as other schools, including contact tracing, temperature taking, requiring masks and hand sanitizer, and limiting classroom size to accommodate physical distancing.
The trio are fast-pacing the opening, with classes hopefully beginning in January. Meanwhile, there will be preview classes in the form of fundraising events during November and December. An integral part of the fundraising will be establishing a scholarship fund for students and families in need. There will be levels of fundraising, described Sternberg, from only a few dollars to larger corporate sponsorship.
“If someone donates $2, they get a doodle,” she said of the Decidedly Doodling campaign. “Also, if they donate $500.”
There will also be a wish list set up through the Dick Blick art supply website in which “good Samaritans” can buy supplies for the school, kind of like a wedding registry.
“If we can do this now, during a pandemic,” said Sternberg, “imagine what we can do without it.”
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