Isa Beniston | May 2015
Hometown: Solana Beach, California
Major: Fine Arts
Minor: Visual and Performing Arts Education
Q: A little background about you: Name, Hometown, degree major, year of graduation (or year of study if you are not a graduate yet) and the type of art that you focus on.
A: My name is Isa Beniston and I’m from Solana Beach, California. I got my BA from UCLA in June of 2014 with a major in Art and a minor in Visual and Performing Arts Education (VAPAE). My practice is based primarily in drawing but I also work with ceramics and printmaking.
Q: How did you discover your interest in art and how did you know that it was something that you wanted to pursue professionally, as an artist or as an art teacher?
A: I was lucky enough to be born into a house full of books and art supplies. My mother is an artist but both sides of my family have artists of all kinds going back as far as we can trace (quilters, watercolorists, oil painters). So art has always been part of my life, and I’m extremely grateful for that. But as an artist I’ve spent a large amount of my young adult life conversing with people who say they’re no good at art, don’t draw, are afraid to engage with the art world, etc. It breaks my heart to think that people stop making art for whatever reason, especially when it’s such an important tool that can shape the way you view the world and your own identity. Working as a VAPAE teaching artist is my way of rectifying this.
Q: Describe what the young artists in your VAPAE studio sessions are working on and the process they’re using.
A: My students at Emerson middle school are in their third and last quarter of Studio Sessions. We spent last quarter playing drawing games, working with India ink, practicing drawing techniques like blind contour and observational drawing. Students were able to develop and familiarize themselves with their own personal style of drawing or what subject matter compelled them most. This quarter we’re working on a really fun project. The students are each creating a line of products within a specific budget–books of their drawings, buttons, stickers, postcards, and block prints. Their work will be sold at a “Studio Sale” at the end of the year and the proceeds will be put toward a cause of their choice. We’ve been discussing profit margins, how to make a living as an artist, valuing their work, and creating a cohesive theme in their work. Right now, the students are creating a timeline for what they’ll make and what they need to do in order to finish everything on time (time management!).
Q: Why is an enrichment opportunity like this important for those participating? What do they gain?
A: The VAPAE Studio Sessions create a safe community for these students within a larger pre-existing community. While many of my students knew each other before class, we’ve had the chance to create so many new memories just within our classroom. Studio Sessions is truly a special place for these kids and it’s unlike anything else they do during the week. Aside from the technical skill they gain working with traditional tools and materials in my classroom, my students are also getting the chance to take a break from their regular schoolwork for two hours each week to freely explore who they are and what matters to them, which is especially important for students 12-14 years old.
Q: Did you have an opportunity like this when you were a younger artist? If yes, how did it help shape your love of art? If no, in what ways could a program like this have helped you?
A: I went to Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, which was a one-of-a-kind high school that had an afterschool art program known as “Conservatory.” The Digital/Fine Art Conservatory, which I was a part of for 3 years, met almost every day after school. We had lessons from our art teachers at school as well as visiting artists and were able to explore a wide range of media (ultimately helping me realize what I was and wasn’t interested in doing). To be a part of such a tight-knit community of people my own age that was pulsing with creativity was truly a gift. It taught me that surrounding myself with creative people was valuable to my practice as well as my own personal growth as an artist.
Q: What has this experience as a teaching artist/ facilitator taught you about yourself?
A: Initially when I began teaching I learned that I was more patient and positive than I’d previously given myself credit for. The more I’ve taught over the past 5 years the more it becomes clear to me how much I love and value art and how important it is to me that art be a part of every child’s life.
Q: What do you personally gain as a teaching artist/facilitator?
A: There’s nothing more special in the world than getting to work with young people doing something you love. My students make me laugh every day and remind me of myself at their age. Spending time with them and hearing their perspective of the world is inspiring and eye-opening—it’s unlike any job I’ve ever had!
Q: What are the benefits to you as a student/graduate in the UCLA VAPAE program? Was this program a good choice for you? If so, why?
A: I am so grateful to VAPAE for the all of the opportunities it gave me as an undergrad and especially as an alum. UCLA VAPAE is very much a community for me and that was so helpful at a huge school like UCLA. The classes I took for the minor reminded me to play and enjoy my art practice, broadened my own understanding of art, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. UCLA VAPAE has been incredibly supportive since I graduated and is a strong network of like-minded people that I can look to for advice, employment opportunities, and inspiring discussions about the developing role that art can play in educational settings.
Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions that stand out to you? Perhaps you had a break‐through with a student or saw some particularly noticeable growth in that student through this program, collaboration etc. Maybe something surprised you or made you think about art or teaching in a new way.
A: I had a student in my first year teaching Studio Sessions at Emerson Middle School who completely blew me away. Usually I walk into a classroom with limited expectations—not because I don’t believe the kids can make great work but because I like to assume, for their sake, that everyone is new to what we’re working on so no one feels uncomfortable or in over their head. My Studio Session was focused primarily on bookmaking; the students were working to create artists journals about themselves and their goals for the future. During studio time one of the first weeks, one of my students came up to me and shared a thick collection of hand-written pages with drawings of all sorts of characters in a plastic binder. She said she’d been writing stories for a long time but always kept them in binders because she didn’t know how to bind them into a book. I was floored by the density and attention to detail in her drawings as well as the playfulness of the stories and what the characters were saying. I couldn’t believe that I’d assumed this student (and any students for that matter) wasn’t anything but an impressive young artist! It was an excellent reminder to me as a teacher to always expect the best from my students, and I felt so honored that I was the one who got to share an art tradition that she could use for the rest of her practice as an artist!
Q: What are your short-term and long‐term career goals?
A: My short-term career goal is to experiment in a variety of art and arts education related fields to expand my experience and knowledge as much as possible. In the long-term, I see myself combining my love of arts education with my own practice to create a community workshop space that would host classes, incorporate a storefront gallery/showing space, and act as a venue for young musicians and artists to share their work. Basically an all-encompassing art space!