Garrison Art Center Mentor Show Celebrates Months of Interaction

Exhibit of Mentee works is culminating event in one-on-on process; School Invitational Exhibition also on display 

By Alison Rooney

Saturday March 3 marked dual openings of two long-standing traditions at the Garrison Art Center: the Mentor Show and the School Theme Invitational. asked the Art Center’s Education Coordinator, Barbara Smith Gioia, to discuss the Mentor program, in which professional artists volunteer their time to work on a one-to-one basis, over a series of months, with high-school age students. 

What are the goals of the program?
The Mentor Program was established in 1988 as a means to identify, encourage and guide high school age students in the production and presentation of their own projects. This program is for students who are ready to handle more responsibility for independent study in areas of their interest. The most important criteria for acceptance is the enthusiasm, intent, and responsibility that is necessary for success with independent projects. 

A young attendee interacts with the art

Who is eligible to participate?
The Mentor Program makes a valuable contribution to the creative futures of local youth and to the vitality of the Garrison Art Center community. The Mentor Program runs annually during the winter semester of the school year and is available to students in five counties: Putnam, Westchester, Orange, Rockland and Dutchess. The goal of the program is to reach a diverse population of students and give each of them a unique opportunity to work with a professional artist who will share life experiences as an artist, as well as their expertise and knowledge of the arts.

Have any of the “mentees” become adult students/artists at the Art Center?
The Art Center has seen one or two returning mentees as adult art students or as participating artists in Artists on Location.  Many of our mentees attend our Summer Art Institute for Teens, which is a 3-week arts immersion program consisting of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking and darkroom photography. This program offers young artists five professional studios in which to work and collaborate, enabling them to develop their creative abilities under the guidance of outstanding teaching artists who are masters in their fields.

Work from mentee Alyssa Baron

What are some of the other education outreach activities the Art Center is involved with and essentially is there a renewed focus on education, or simply a formalizing of things which have been done all along?
My role as education coordinator is to continue the programs that are in place at the Art Center and to build on the many outreach programs already in play. The Art Center offers art classes and workshops for children, teens and adults, which include painting, drawing, sculpture, darkroom photography, ceramics and printmaking. Our outreach programs include, in addition to the Mentor Program, SITE – School Invitational Theme Exhibition which invites schools from five counties to create theme based art for an exhibition in our galleries.  [This is running concurrently with the Mentor show this year].

"Mentee" artworks

Do your education programs go beyond the border of the Art Center itself?
We also offer curriculum-based arts programs in our local schools that bring teaching artists into the classrooms to enrich and enhance subjects as diverse as history, math and science. We are expanding this program to meet the growing needs of teachers who wish to connect their subject matter with creative thinking and problem solving through art.

This year’s students
This year’s Mentor program saw 19 students enrolled, 17 in the visual arts and two in writing.  In remarks she made to the large crowd gathered to attend the opening, Gioia noted that this year there were requests from two students for writing mentorships, one for short story/poetry and one for monologue/performance — something which hadn’t occurred for a few years and which the Art Center was pleased about.  Next year they hope to include music, as well.

A large turn-out on a beautiful afternoon

Cold Spring’s Katie Quattrocchi, a senior at Haldane, was pleased to be included in this year’s group of students. Working with artist and Ramapo College professor Jackie Skrzynski, (the match-ups, done by the Art Center, are often based on styles of work), the pair met every Tuesday, with Skrzynski advising Quattrocchi on changes, tips for improvements on work Quattrocchi did largely on her own. Quattrocchi spent last summer at a pre-college program at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, which she called a great experience, and she found this of equal value, “Working one on one felt different.  It was also a good experience just getting to know an artist, and learning about her teaching experience.  She also recommended artists for me to look at.” Quattrocchi plans to pursue a career in art, having just been accepted into the School of Visual Arts.

Assortment of "mentee" artworks

Painter and Westchester Community College drawing instructor Lisa Steffens was paired up with Cold Spring’s Sophia Panayotou, also a senior at Haldane. Steffens had taught Panayotou previously, during a summer program at the Art Center, but this time the process was a little different. “This was more conceptual, piecing it together.  We batted things around and tried to answer a lot of questions: ‘What kind of things is she [Sophia] trying to say? What manner is she trying to say it in?’  She wanted things in the painting which spoke to her and her personal experiences.” Discussing size, colors, practicalities, they looked through books found in the Art Center’s upstairs library, with Steffens showing Panayotou the works of David Hockney and Edward Hopper for inspiration.  Steffens calls working with Panayotou “a privilege — she was a delight and I told her, ‘let’s not call this the end.’”

Yarn Paintings from Crompond 5th graders in School Invitational

Cold Spring’s Quinlan Silverstein, a sophomore at Haldane, worked with Smith Gioia, and was especially fascinated with the work he did with linoleum blocks. “I had a lot of fun doing it,” he said, “you get so much more help when it’s just you and the teacher. I didn’t expect to get as much done as I did.” Silverstein said he came to the Art Center once or twice a week, sometimes venturing into the classes Smith Gioia teaches. “I worked on my things and she’d be working on her projects.  Sometimes other artists would come up and work with us.  I’d definitely do this again.”

Mentor Kathy Curto and mentee Violet Degnan

During the reception, attendees were treated to readings from the two writing participants in the program. Olivia Cote, of Croton-Harmon High School, performed a comedic monologue, while Brewster’s Violet Degnan, who attends the Wooster School, in Danbury, read a short story. Degnan worked with Cold Spring writer and St. Thomas Aquinas professor Kathy Curto. In each hour-long session they tried to establish a goal of looking at a piece and deciding, according to Curto, “how can we make this better, say it more concisely; each session had its own texture. … I was so intrigued by Violet’s insight and wanted to talk as two writers — a total two-way street.”  Together they looked at Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and at passages of dialogue from a Hemingway short story. Degnan, who discovered the program online (“I’m always looking for opportunities to work with writers”), said the meetings allowed her to focus, and having a deadline was always helpful. Working with a piece Degnan had already begun, they shaped it. “In its beginning it had hints of the layers of personality,” said Degnan, “As we worked it through, the characters started to show more depth; sentences changed.” The experience proved valuable to both mentor and mentee, with Degnan noting “writing for school, whether for a grade or to please a teacher, is so different.”

"Red Line" from Garrison School

School Invitational Theme Exhibit
The School Invitational Theme Exhibit, which opened concurrently, is oriented to many regional schools. The Art Center comes up with a theme, new each year, which it then “throws out” to the schools.  The schools are then free to come up with any approach of their choosing, in any medium, to the theme, resulting in widely varied concepts and results, produced by the full age range of students, kindergarten through 12th grade.  This year’s theme was “taking line for a walk” and the results included photographic representation of lines in the forms of fences and stairs from Lakeland High School to wire sculptures representing drawing in space, inspired by Alexander Calder, from Briarcliff Middle School.  Crompond 5th graders created yarn paintings of animals, based on the style of Huichol Indians, while Beacon students used line as a tool to explore perspective.

Both exhibits remain up until March 18.  For gallery hours and more information visit the Garrison Art Center website.

Alison Rooney participated in this year’s mentor program, working with Olivia Cote on writing and performance.

Photos by A.Rooney

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