Every Tuesday morning, rain or shine, 13 San Benito High School Life Skills students leave their campus and head for an art lesson in downtown Hollister. Their destination: ARTspace, located at 240 Fifth St. For the past two-and-a-half years, the students from Ann Vasquez’s class have honed their artistic talents in the Life Skills Arts Program. On Thursday, Jan. 26, the public will have an opportunity to see and celebrate the students’ work in a first-of-its-kind exhibit presented by the San Benito County Arts Council and on display at ARTspace.
Vasquez explained in a telephone interview with BenitoLink that her students range in ages 18 to 22 years old and have “severe cognitive and/or developmental delays,” adding that the Life Skills curriculum is designed to transition students from a formal academic setting to one that focuses on community engagement and employment.
“The goal is to make our students active members of our community,” she said.
The Life Skills Art Program is the product of a relationship forged between Vasquez and retired SBHS art teacher, Louise Roy, more than a decade ago, when students from Vasquez’s classroom would often pop in on Roy’s ceramic course next door and join their peers in shaping wet clay.
The two instructors began collaborating, finding other opportunities to expose the Life Skills students to an array of art mediums, as some special needs pupils were mainstreamed into Roy’s courses.
For the retired educator, the moments she spent with Life Skills students are the most cherished memories of her time as an educator.
“They were always my joy. They have always had a special place in my heart,” Roy said in her telephone interview with BenitoLink.
In retirement, Roy volunteered in Vasquez’s class, teaching art or, on a few occasions, hula.
When Roy became a board member of the San Benito County Arts Council, she pressed ahead with efforts to make the bond between her and the students permanent.
The Life Skills Arts Program is one of many arts education programs established by the arts council to promote “accessibility and equity” to “underserved communities,” explained the council’s executive director, Jennifer Laine, in her telephone interview with BenitoLink.
She also noted that a Local Impact grant secured through the California Arts Council is funding the program.
Guiding students as they learn about the quality of lines, spacing, and patterns is Roy, who volunteers her time on Tuesdays to teach art to the Life Skills students, as well as to those in Hope Services, some of whom are her former students and whose work will also be part of the exhibit.
When facilitating the weekly, 1 hour and 15 minute class meeting, Roy’s primary goal is to cultivate a lifelong joy for art, one rooted in self-expression and free of self-doubt.
“I want students to realize that art is fun and something they can do on their own without being afraid,” she said.
The “Joy of Art Soup” exhibit—which kicks off with a reception on Thursday evening and runs through Friday, Feb. 24—will feature about 20 pieces from each student’s art portfolio that demonstrates the eight techniques they have learned while enrolled in the arts program, explained Vasquez.
Four trees that illustrate the palette of the seasons, a cat accentuated with a series of colorful hearts, and a person whose crazy hair of red and blue stripes fill the canvas are but sampling of what visitors will see on display.
“The students are proud of what they’ve accomplished, and attendees to the exhibit are going to be amazed,” said Roy.
The "Joy of Art Soup" art exhibition opens with a celebration and reception on Thursday, Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m.. at ARTspace, located at 240 Fifth St. in Downtown Hollister. The exhibition will run through Friday, Feb. 24.