The Arc of the Arts

Austin, Texas

Arc of the Arts is an ambitious studio located in Austin, Texas. They’re a program within The Arc of the Capital Area, which is an affiliate of the National Arc, a non-profit organization with locations throughout the country. This studio program is the only one we’re aware of that’s part of a national Arc chapter.

The Manager of this program, Ann Wieding, who has a formal background in Art Education, has implemented many good ideas in the studio. Wieding previously worked at Full Life in Portland and one of the program’s other teachers completed her Master’s thesis on programs of this kind in the Bay Area (particularly Creativity Explored, where she spent a week). The nature of the program reflects a familiarity with these practices, but takes a different approach.

It’s become clear over the course of our studio visits that the idea of understanding art as a career is the one of the most unresolved and problematic aspects of this model for support. Wieding’s approach to this is to view the program as a post-secondary education rather than as an employment provider, and teaching a full range of occupational skills integral to a career in art. This includes marketing, writing statements, self-promotion, and discussing  the work; the artists frequently engage in critique, activities in which their teachers role-play as prospective customers, and critically reviewing information and photos on the website. Important topics also addressed.are copyright issues and developing original imagery as an artist.

  A work in progress by Kelly R.

A work in progress by Kelly R.

The program is relatively small, serving a total of 75 artists, with between 15 to 20 on a professional artist track. There are currently three instructors with backgrounds in Art Education, Creative Writing, and Digital Media (two full-time and one part-time) plus Ann, whose office is open and available to the studio and gallery. The instructors form units with the artists for one-month periods, conducting programming that reflects their respective fields. Training offered also includes Photoshop, photography, film, etc., with future plans of a computer lab for other technology based projects..

A typical day here begins with a morning check-in, brief introductions of any newcomers, and then a short lesson (often lead by a studio artist). The program has classes each day  to introduce various ideas, but they’re normally only 15-20 minutes long. Once this project is completed, the artists work freely. The day concludes with a one-on-one staff member critique. This combination of teaching sessions and open studio time mimics a post-secondary art school; more didactic teaching can be provided through this approach because there’s a tangible distinction between the structure of a studio artist’s experience in learning projects and independent studio work.

  David M.’s graphite drawings stood out, the long horn steer frequently appears in his work

David M.’s graphite drawings stood out, the long horn steer frequently appears in his work

Arc of the Arts’ gallery is located in their studio, which most often only receives foot traffic from those visiting the Arc offices for other interests. Other studios are either independent (Creative Growth and Project Onward) or physically separate from the larger organization they’re affiliated with (Gateway, LAND, Pure Vision), which seems to be more advantageous. Arc of the Arts has also had several exhibitions in the local community (solo and group shows), as well as participating in calls for art, juried shows, and city wide art events such as the WEST Austin Studio Tour.

Arc of the Arts also partners with a nearby high school Special Education program in the effort to transition graduating students into the studio. This is important, since there seems to be a lack of awareness about Progressive Art Studios, or visual arts careers among Special Education in general.