Who takes art classes at The Alabama Center for the Arts? The school on Second Avenue Southeast boasts an eclectic blend of students. The Daily profiled a few taking classes there.
Art has done a lot for tattooist Matteo Gasca.
"There was a time when I was living not too good a lifestyle and a lot of doors were being closed in my face," Gasca said. "Art offered me a new gateway so I could find success and offered me a whole new world. Basically, it saved my life."
Gasca, 29, of Decatur, said he started taking courses at the Alabama Center for the Arts to hone his talent for designing tattoos, but now he's considering a different career path.
"I wanted to build up my skill and get better at what I do, but I got so involved in it, I wound up leaving my job so I could focus more on school," Gasca said.
Gasca plans to move soon for a tattooing job out of state, but "I don't know if I plan on doing that my whole life," he said.
He plans to continue his schooling and obtain a degree in fine art. He said he's enjoyed taking art classes so much he can see himself in a classroom permanently.
"It took me back to my junior high school (in Minnesota) years ago, when I had a teacher who really helped me, really touched me. It got me thinking about becoming an art teacher," he said.
Gasca has taken watercolor, oil painting, 2-D and 3-D design classes.
"The more you do it, the more caught up you get, and all the media, there's no limit to it, man," he said.
He said 2-D design was especially helpful because it taught all the elements of putting together a design.
"I use it every day. At least once a week, I go through (the textbook)," he said.
Gasca said he's glad to have the arts center in Decatur.
"It's great because you hear about schools taking money out of arts and music programs. So to see a building like that put up, it's amazing," he said.
Mother-of-four Julie Brown, of Decatur, said some of her classmates at the Alabama Center for the Arts might be surprised to find out she's 41.
"I don't look it. I blend in with everyone until my son, who's a college student there too, says, ‘Hey, Mom!' He's the only one that gives away my thing," Brown said.
The single mom said she decided it was time to go back to school after getting bogged down in a retail job.
"This is time to be about me," she said. "I'm not worried about tons of money. I want to be happy. It's time to take the plunge and do something that I want to do, not always the retail or the office work or the home sales."
Brown's mother moved in with her to help care for the children, including her 12-year-old daughter, a Cedar Ridge Middle School student, and 9-year-old daughter, an Austinville Elementary student.
Her 21-year-old son just went to Marine boot camp, her 20-year-old son, who attends Calhoun Community College, leaves to join the Navy in May, she said.
"If they would put forth their efforts, every one of them is very artistic," Brown said.
Brown said she was accepted to the Art Institute of Chicago after high school and applied for a scholarship there.
"I missed the opportunity to go because I ended up being the mom of two small children," she said.
After working various menial jobs, Brown began taking fashion design classes at the University of North Alabama in 2006. She dropped out after her oldest son broke his jaw and she missed too class too much.
Now in her third semester, Brown plans to get a bachelor's degree in art from Athens State University and earn a master's degree from Alabama A&M in Huntsville.
She wants to become an art teacher and hopes to someday teach classes in oil painting and charcoal drawing.
"I really want to be there to influence kids or young adults and help them," she said.
She credits instructors Kathryn Vaughn and Kristine Beadle with helping her make that decision.
"When I first started at Calhoun, I took an art appreciation class, and I spoke with Mrs. Beadle. I really enjoyed it and it just went from there," she said. "... Having that positive attitude from teachers who pushed me really made me want to be a teacher."
Brown learns not only from her teachers but from her classmates, she said.
"Each class has such a variety of artists. You have your beginners, you have your intermediates and you have your advanced students. We're able to walk around and see everybody's art and how they develop from the beginning of the semester to the end. You can also bounce ideas off of each other as to how to do things," she said.
Brooke Alexander, of Athens, said her main focus is painting and drawing portraits, but she plans to become a college art instructor.
Alexander, 20, is in her final semester at Calhoun Community College, where she began studying immediately after high school, and plans to major in fine arts at Athens State University.
"I always wanted to be an artist," said Alexander, who prefers to work in pencil or watercolor.
"Drawing people is my favorite. I want to be able to capture a person's essence on a canvas or page. I'm a realist. I don't care for abstract."
Though she's been paid to do portraits, Alexander said she plans to teach because working as a full-time studio artist is financially risky.
"I would like to do that, but you don't make a whole lot of money doing that," she said.
Alexander said she wants to teach at the college level because instructors get more time with their students and have more freedom to teach their own way.
"Plus, the quality of work is higher. You can't really teach elementary school students portraiture," she said.
Alexander has taken classes in watercolor, drawing, painting, composition and art history.
She said she loves the amount of natural light in the new building.
The arts center, a concerted effort between Calhoun Community College and Athens State University, also helps students get acquainted with the teachers at Athens, where some, like herself, will go on to major, she said.
Seth Burkett can be reached at 256-340-2446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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