The Origin of the Artist in Residence Program
by Christina Bertucchi, Upper School Visual Arts Teacher, Co-Chair of the Art Department
Accomplished students who yearn to become professional artists often wonder whether they’ll face a future of starvation and struggle. At CWA, they can interact with professional “artists in residence” and learn not just what life is really like for them but also about the rewards of their creative journeys.
CWA is among only a few schools nationally that has launched an Artist in Residence program. This past fall, we welcomed Mark Hoppmann—an established and successful local artist—as our second artist in residence. A very active member of the thriving local art community, Mark demonstrated talents that stretch across a wide range of media, from pen and ink drawings to watercolor to, most recently, book arts. In his first two months on campus, he presented at assemblies in all three divisions and worked directly with our students and faculty on numerous projects. Now the whole school community can see his work in a solo show in our Ted Sanford Art Gallery this upcoming February.
I first met Mark during the Tacoma Open Studio tours, which occur every October. I have made many connections with artists over the years and routinely invite them to present to a few of my classes and exhibit in our Ted Sanford Art Gallery. Bringing in guest artists can make a big impact on a class, but the time students spend with visitors is very limited. Students are seeing beautiful finished products in the gallery but are detached from seeing how that creative process unfolds.
I wished I could bring all of my students with me on a studio tour to see inspiring spaces, to see works in progress, and to watch professionals at work. With our new Artists in Residence program, I can now do this without leaving campus. Instead, I can take my class on a field trip by only walking a few feet to a new studio space that is dramatically transformed every year by a new artist.
Our spring arts festival, C’DAT, is a day for celebrating creativity, when all three divisions turn the Visual Arts Center into a hive of activity and energy. It’s easy to take this center for granted in our day-to-day routines, but it’s actually quite a remarkable place—and unique among schools of our size. We boast six studio spaces to house glass, printmaking, sculpture, painting, drawing, and ceramics. As an arts faculty, we concluded that we could not let this festival be the only occasion for the Lower and Middle School students to engage in this environment.
When Head of School Matt Culberson joined our community, there was an instant feeling of new energy on campus. Often in meetings he would challenge us to be more innovative, to leave no stones unturned. He wanted to showcase what we have to offer in the Visual Arts Department and to explore how we might open our arts program to the greater community. I took this quest to heart and began brainstorming.
When the Visual Arts Center was built in 1999, there was a narrow space designed to be a gallery. It was never able to accommodate enough student artwork, and when the Ted Sanford Art Gallery was established in the Upper School, this narrow space became storage. The windows were covered with black drapes and the room was full of old art projects and materials. Many of my students didn’t even know this room existed. In an effort to revitalize the art center, this space became a focal point. What if we used it not as a gallery but as an active space to showcase the creative process instead? Thus was born the idea of creating an Artist in Residence program—essentially offering a professional artist fresh space in which to work and an opportunity to interact with students across all three divisions. At the end of the residency, the artist would have a solo exhibition. This new studio space and program would not only revitalize our art center but also would create an opportunity for students of all ages to connect with a professional artist hard at work.
I marvel at how open our community is to change. It speaks volumes for how supported we are as a faculty, to be able to design a new program and run with it almost immediately. I have routinely been given the green light on programs and ideas that have never been done before. While other schools are cutting art programs, we are doing the exact opposite. We are showcasing the talent of artists from within our local community for the direct benefit of our students. We are celebrating the creative process and creating new dialogues with our classes.
Our first artist in residence, Andrew DeGoede ’07, took up residency in the fall of 2018. He is a talented oil painter who also happens to be a CWA alumnus. When he moved into the space, he brought over 30 blank canvases with him. Students were astonished at his level of productivity. His solo show was dramatically influenced by creating the work on a school campus. He appreciated sharing his process with students and embraced that concept in his final paintings.
The Artist in Residence program gives the whole community a new way of connecting with the visual arts. All three divisions can now have a tailored experience. When our artist has their exhibition in February, students will have seen the work being developed from the very beginning. They will have a real connection with the work and with the artist as a person.
The program is still evolving, with plenty of opportunity for the residency to grow and adapt with our school culture. I really appreciate how these evolutions are happening naturally and how the program is tailored by the individual artist in current residence. There are endless possibilities for the program to involve more arts integration projects across all three divisions.
What once was a forgotten storage space has now been transformed into an active, creative studio and gallery. The large windows that were covered in black drapes are now filling the space with natural light and serving as a viewing area to see a local, professional artist in action. The doors are always open and welcoming to pop-in visitors. Students can see and discuss first hand what inspires these artists and their choice of materials. Students can learn how they overcome creative hurdles and perfect techniques to build productivity. Stepping into an artist’s studio gives a viewer a stronger appreciation of the creative process. //