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Spotlight on studio art classes

Connecting with students’ lives see things differently and understand the process.” For example, she explains, an origami class might build up to having students design and construct kites that can actually fly.

Ashley Occhino

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shley Occhino wants to make sure that the studio art experience at WAM doesn’t end when students leave the classroom. Working with about 40 faculty members and colleagues, the Museum’s manager of studio class programs develops hundreds of courses each year. Her goal is to connect children and adults not only to what’s happening in the Museum galleries, but also to what’s happening in their lives. Young children, for example, may create a work of art to display on the fridge, but more importantly they develop and enhance a lifelong learning partnership. Older kids begin to work independently in classes that focus on process and problem solving. “We create lessons that require students to take a step back and reflect,” Ashley says. “We try to help them

Course planning also involves teaming up with curatorial staff, who Ashley says are “a wonderful source of inspiration.” Brainstorming with colleagues and faculty is also a way that Ashley ensures WAM’s courses are relevant and engaging. “If I wouldn’t want to take a class, how can I expect anyone else to be excited about it?” she asks.

One unusual result of this cross-departmental collaboration is a new martial arts course that begins with close observation of swords and armor in the Knights! and Samurai! exhibitions. “It’s less of a martial arts class and more about seeing these things in a historical context. Students get a really rich understanding of how and why an item was made, what it represents and even how to develop effective movement and creativity with a sword,” Ashley explains.

When it comes to courses for teens and adults, Ashley is passionate about making sure that students come away with something “tangible and qualitative— whether that’s developing a portfolio for college, exhibiting their artwork, or being able to instruct someone else and transfer their skills.”

With many school districts cutting arts education, WAM fills the void for high school students who are preparing for a career in the arts. “We help them build a strong art background and feel more prepared for college,” Ashley says. WAM classes also offer access to tools and techniques, such as printmaking equipment, that are rarely found in other pre-college classroom settings. Adult classes range from an unintimidating introduction to different media for beginners, to intensive courses geared toward advanced and professional artists.

Ashley’s passion for art began in childhood, when her mother was the director of an art museum in her hometown. Both of her parents were educators at various points in their careers, and the family made frequent trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. “I basically grew up in a museum,” she laughs. That led her to pursue an undergraduate degree in textile design and art history at UMass Dartmouth and a master’s degree in fiber arts and museum studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She joined WAM in June 2014.

When asked about her own creative endeavors, Ashley says, “I do try to stay active. I’m not necessarily building my body of work right now, but I’m still having fun with it. It’s about keeping my artistic skills sharp, too—I’ve got to practice what I preach!”

Isn’t it time to sign up for that art class you’ve always wanted to take? Get inspired by visiting worcesterart.org/classes to browse our selection of studio art classes for children, teens, and adults. Whether you are a beginning or experienced artist, there is a class for you!

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