Arts feature: Saturday Morning Art Classes Exhibition

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Molly McMillen and Tanya Pirasteh

Saturday Morning Art Classes at CCAD is a tradition in Columbus that dates back at least 135 years.

More than just an enrichment program, the classes are a leg up for students who attend schools that may not have the resources available to build up their art programs, as well as a kick-start for young artists who want to explore where their interest and talent might take them.

Or both.

“The overarching idea is that we're reaching out to the whole community, meaning all of Central Ohio. We have students from every part of [Franklin County] and contiguous counties coming in for an enhanced art experience,” said Christine Hill, director of community education at CCAD, in a recent phone interview. “Ideally, the benefit is that you're meeting people from across all sorts of areas and demographics in our city, and coming together and learning something that's a little more advanced.”

Hill, herself a CCAD alum who was a student assistant for Saturday Morning Art Classes during her undergraduate studies, said that art is what brings students to the class but that relationship-building, with other students and with the institution, happens right alongside intensive art training.

Saturday Morning Art Classes alum Jeni Britton Bauer recalled taking the bus from her home on the outskirts of Upper Arlington to Downtown every Saturday.

“I would get there early and have time to kill, which was also kind of fun. As a kid, being in the city alone was a little scary but really cool,” said Bauer, a member of CCAD's Board of Trustees and founder of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. “I loved that I got to be with students from all over the city who were devoted … [and] had worked hard for scholarships, or some worked to pay their way in.”

Tanya Pirasteh was dropped off for her Saturday Morning Arts Classes by her dad, a CCAD professor who would then go and teach his own classes. Pirasteh is now a teacher in the program.

“The smell, the drawing horses and easels … some of it is the same,” Pirasteh said. “It's so great to come full circle. You know what goes into it and know what people can get out of it. I realize the impact that the class had on me and what I took from it, so I try to kind of highlight those things.”

The classes are offered for elementary-age students through adults. Some classes are multi-generational. Early classes focus on fundamentals — drawing, painting, color theory, figures — while classes for middle and high school students offer training in specific mediums, including digital media, animation and more rigorous training in traditional mediums. It was that rigor that stood out in Bauer's experience.

“For really the first time in my life, I was sort of on my own and being treated like a smart, real human being. The professors that taught these classes weren't easy on anyone, expected a lot out of us, and you didn't show up unless you were ready to show your best self. For me, that was the coolest thing ever,” she said.

Cara Unrue signed her daughter, 10-year-old Molly McMillen, up for the class because McMillen had begun to show heightened interest in art.

“When she started taking these classes, it was the first time we saw an unusually high level of talent. Then she started drawing on her own outside of class. I feel like Tanya and these classes have helped coax her talents,” Unrue said.

“I've definitely gotten more comfortable with drawing, and I'm drawing more now — even outside of the class,” McMillen said.

“She's taken it and run with it. In her regular school, they have to ask her to stop drawing,” Unrue said.

“All of the things that you want to do in class when you're little at school, you can do in this class,” Pirasteh said, only half-joking.

When the program hosts its annual exhibition on Saturday, March 31, it will be a big deal for the students.

“It feels awesome to think that my art is worth something, that people will notice it and notice me for what I did — and my friends' artwork, too,” McMillen said.

“It might sound a little cheesy, but it's kind of magical. Knowing your whole world is these kinds of moments when you're that age, and watching them react to their own accomplishments, that's maybe my favorite part,” Pirasteh said.

“The tiny seeds that we plant with young people grow, and you will not see them for a long time, but they do,” Bauer said. “Showing up to see their artwork is doing that. They will never forget that, and it will come back to the community later. It matters.”

CCAD Crane Center, third floor

Reception noon-2 p.m. Saturday, March 31

112 Cleveland Ave., Downtown