Neighborhood Studios Q&A: Real Art Ways – Eye on Video

Neighborhood Studios apprentices of the Real Art Ways program

There’s plenty of reasons to love Real Art Ways: the intimate art space is a haven for contemporary local art, Oscar-winning independent films, and fun, creative cocktail hours. Another reason to love Real Art Ways? They’re one of five organizations participating in Neighborhood Studios, a summer arts education apprenticeship for students in Greater Hartford. The Eye on Video program teaches apprentices – you guessed it – film production. If you’re a fan of short, independent films, you’ll want to stop by Real Art Ways on Friday night for the students’ studio showcase, where they will present their work. You may just meet a handful of future famous film directors. Read on to learn more about the program from our interview with Erika Van Natta, master teaching artist of Real Art Ways.

How many years has Real Art Ways been involved?

Real Art Ways has been a Neighborhood Studios host for the past nine summers.  Over the years we’ve had over eighty Apprentices.  We’ve even gotten to know whole families, as younger siblings have stepped into the Apprentice role.  It is especially rewarding to see Apprentices want to come back, either to further their own skills or to give back to others.  Real Art Ways becomes somewhat of a second home, offering them a cultural center and a place to be part of an artistic community.

What are the goals for your studio this summer?

Within a short but intensive six-week program, we have a lot to cover.  For many of our Apprentices, this is the first time they’ve ever made a video, let alone worked with the manual settings on a DSLR format camera or semi-professional editing software.  Our primary goal is to make this technical medium accessible to young artists.  We want them to feel confident with the process, versed in cinematic language and excited to translate their own ideas onto the screen.  This summer our studio theme is Color as Content.  Colors are all around us, in our environments, clothing and objects.  As a cinematographer, the goal is to observe thoughtfully, and to selectively compose and organize colors to emphasize mood and create a visual style.  Throughout the program, we want our Apprentices to have fun, meet new people from diverse backgrounds and make lasting friendships.

What’s an average day like at your studio?

Eye on Video begins each day with a screening of a historically significant film with a focus on an innovative use of color. Post-viewing, the Apprentices regroup for a film conversation, which covers everything from cinematographic and directorial choices to cultural significance and the role of color, aesthetically and thematically. For the afternoon, they typically split into two groups that alternate editing and shooting sessions. During the editing block, the Apprentices transform raw footage into completed short films while the shooting group ventures into the surrounding Parkville neighborhood to capture video for their next assignment. At the end of the day, the two groups come together for a closing discussion and reflective journaling exercise.  Other afternoons may include tutorials, practice exercises, and class critiques.

What about working with students in the Greater Hartford region inspires you?

The greater Hartford area is an extremely diverse local with a rich varied history. The students represent the future of our community and are responsible for continuing its artistic tradition. The students are all very talented and due to their unique backgrounds focus their lenses on many different things. Each student shows individual talent and promise but what I find most inspirational is their strength as a cohort.  When they come to the studio they are able to leverage each other’s strengths, showing great sensitivity to the diversity of their peers, to form an artistic whole greater than the sum of its parts. The student’s future is our future and I think their future is bright.

How do you see the exploration of an artistic discipline as well as career skills impacting the way these students might look towards the future?

The career skills curriculum provides our Apprentices with an opportunity that is rarely available to their age group. This early exposure to career skills—like financial planning, resume writing, and networking—not only gives Apprentices a head start in understanding the demands of the transition to adult life, but also gives them an awareness of the steps they can already begin to take towards an eventual career in the arts. In a world where there is already much skepticism about the importance of art and art education, students need the support from a program like Neighborhood Studios to bolster their confidence in pursuing art as a career. However, even if Apprentices choose not to turn their passion for a specific discipline into a lifelong vocation, all benefit from the program’s central objective of simultaneously fostering professionalism and creativity in young people.

What did past students take away from the program and how does that experience differ from a traditional art class?

Overall our Apprentices take away a more immersive experience.  Their entire day is structured around film and video, which gives them the chance to delve much deeper into the curriculum than possible in a single class period.  They also feel the program offers them greater hands on time than traditional art classes, and the opportunity to create with an experimental, open-ended approach.  Our Apprentices benefit from having a peer group that is extremely passionate about what they are doing.  They’re supportive of each other’s growth, excited to exchange ideas and proud of each other’s creative achievements.

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