After participating in a three-weekend art workshop, young artists in San Benito County presented their completed pieces at a student art exhibit titled “Circular Stories” on June 9 at the Leslie Garratt Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6359 in San Juan Bautista.
Local artist Graciela Serna Nutter instructed the workshop series, which was offered to youth ages seven to 15 for three consecutive Saturdays in May at El Teatro Campesino in San Juan.
“It turned out to be a lot more amazing than I anticipated,” Nutter said of the exhibit. “This is the very first time I put this on.”
Nutter, who has also taught art at Calaveras and Spring Grove schools, said her approach to teaching art shifted post-pandemic.
“There is a distinct change and difference—it almost breaks my heart—to enter into the classroom,” she said. “What worked prior isn’t working today. They’re coming from a deeper place now. There’s a lot more they’re carrying.”
She said students did a lot of structured “ice-breaker stuff” on the first day of the workshop.
“It was structured in a particular way to open that door, like ‘Ahh, this is a safe space,’ and those are exactly the words I used with them,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m going to let you know that as artists, this is your space. I was very fluid to allow them to go, ‘Oh wow, this feels good.’ It truly made a difference.”
Nutter grew up in San Juan Bautista and has been active with El Teatro Campesino for many years, holding the title of playwright, director and producer with the company. However, she said she has only recently begun putting her own art on canvas, which also led to her opening her own art company, Desert Seed Custom Canvas.
“I called it ‘Desert Seed’ because like the desert seed, it can stay dormant for 50 years and then bloom,” she said. “And like the desert seed, I began to do canvas art at a later stage of life. So I bloomed after 50 years.”
Nutter used supplies from her business and home studios for the workshop, which was made possible from a grant she received through the San Benito County Arts Council.
“She’s one of our Arts Express grantees,” Arts Council Director of Marketing & Outreach Heidi Jumper said. “It’s a call for artists and community organizations to apply for funding for arts projects that serve San Benito County residents. She had applied for that specific project last cycle and then was awarded the grant.”
Just like the exhibit, the workshop was titled “Circular Stories.” Students were guided in creating multimedia art that was divided into four sections, reflecting their family, selves, friends and community.
“My family and friends really inspired me,” said student artist Julia Navarro Ruiz, who was explaining the written names of her best friends in one section on her canvas.
She then pointed to another section with a small building in between a row of big buildings.
“And that represents my small house full of big love, compared to a big city,” Ruiz said. “The buildings really aren’t that high, it’s just Hollister, but I just love the expression.”
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