PUBLISHED: 3:36 PM on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The Canvas continues to expand
REACH student Niall Johnson is brushing a pottery bowl with blue and orange paint-it's a late Mother's Day gift, he said. Another student, Anne Fitzjarrald is adding touches to her pottery piece. The atmosphere is warm, cheerful and very busy with the sounds of artwork in progress.

A blank "canvas," the Canvas Community Art Studio & Gallery is a gathering place for students, artists and locals to celebrate art expression through various mediums. Tucked on the corner of 223 Seward St. in downtown Juneau, passerbys peep through windows, watching students form handmade pottery or work on watercolor techniques.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Student Gina Frickey, works at creating a clay cup on a pottery kick-wheel during class at the Canvas, a community art studio and gallery in Juneau. She took pottery for two years in high school, and said the class is "real work." The old-fashioned pottery wheel is operated by spinning wheel with foot continually.
Currently, the grassroots-style center features gallery showing "Making Faces: Masks from the Middle," contributed by Dzantik'i Heeni students who collaborated with local artists Charles Buggs and Mary Leslie. Around 195 beautifully colored masks are on display through May.

On June 1, a new exhibit by Plein Rein will be open for public viewing.

A unique conjunction, it's a community art center and day habilitation program for REACH, an independent, non-profit organization serving people who experience disabilities, as well as a resource for artists.

"REACH has this driving mission to include people with disabilities in the community. Communication is challenging, art is a different way of communicating and it's less challenging," said director Annie Geselle.

We get something so amazing from people when they are able to express it through art", Geselle said.

"The whole purpose is to break down the barriers and say, 'look what these people can do,'"she said.

Founded in June 2006, the Canvas also provides classes in visual, literary, pottery and music for all skill levels; business skills and technical classes for artists; visual art exhibitions, poetry readings and events; slide lectures and workshops. It houses a large open visual arts studio and formal gallery with small performance capabilities.

Artists in town have wanted to open a art center for a long time, but had no space, she said. Geselle had a space, but no artists; the Canvas is a perfect location.

"We wanted to bridge the gap. There's no reason why community can't come," she said.

The Canvas has been busy, with the phone ringing constantly. It proves the need Juneau has for this, Geselle said.

Artists not only use studio space, they perform as well. They've had events ranging from a John Leo's clown show to salsa dancing with Heather and Antonio.

In June anyone can take classes such as Expressive Oil Painting with Kylie Manning or even on eclectic topic Turntable Mechanics with DJ Astronomar.

"There are different levels; they might not be for everybody but there might be something for everybody," Geselle said concerning community classes.

The Canvas is working toward several goals include memberships, a community pottery shop and café. Eventual purchases include a kiln and modern pottery wheels.

They hope to host "coffee-house" concerts with seating and local live folk music.

While the café will serve its purpose, REACH clients will also work in the kitchen and learn job skills.

They hope to begin projects in July and have their grand opening by the fall. A matter of getting enough funding and donations; they're currently applying for grants.

"We hope this will be a model for other places, including art with social services," Geselle said.

Classes are normally around two hours with 10 students. Teachers range from volunteers to paid professionals.

David Thomas, a Direct Service Professional, is one of the first teachers brought on board at the Canvas.

"I'm a teacher who prefers this kind of classroom. For me, it a treat just be teaching here," he said. "I'm waiting to see (Governor) Sarah Palin come pay us a visit and see what's going on in our backyard," Thomas said. "I love it here-it's so much fun. It's changed by perspective of art," said Jesuit volunteer Jeanette Myers.

Whether it's learning, participating or viewing-art and community finds a home at the Canvas.