The walls inside the Gold Coast Arts Center were graced with self-portraits, colorful layered paintings and drawings. Pottery found shelter within glass, and items like an elevated plate replica of Manhattan were showcased. Everywhere one turned, there was art.
“As a stranger, you’re walking into a professional gallery in a multi-arts center that has beautiful artwork on the walls, lots of it,” said Regina Gil, director of the Gold Coast Arts Center, in Great Neck. “And [then] you discover that it’s artwork that’s done by motivated students of all ages.”
“It’s a range,” Gil added. “In some instances, it’s hard to say which one is done by a child and which one is done by an adult.”
Over 100 pieces of student artwork were just unveiled at the center and will remain on display until April 30. The center’s School for the Arts has about 160 art students, according to Ellen Schiff, director of the school for three years and an instructor for six.
“It’s a real accomplishment,” Schiff said in an interview in the painting room, as students occasionally peaked inside. “It’s not just a class, it’s an exhibit.”
Family and friends of the students flowed through the art gallery during the exhibition’s opening, looking at the work as the students moved toward their own or toward the snack table.
Instructors said that exhibitions like these have been going on for as long as the center has been open.
Cartooning instructor Jesus Modesto, 25, recalled his time as a student at the art school. While students come and go, he said they have something in common.
“We tend to have a lot of gifted students in Great Neck,” Modesto said.
One of those students is Katherine Zhao, 9, whose multicolored painting of a wolf hung proudly on the wall. She explained that it began with an outline and a paint brush, and she chopped her hand to demonstrate how she hit the canvas to get a dripping effect.
“You should find your own technique,” Zhao, a student here for at least two years, said. “You don’t have to follow all the rules.”
Instructors said that it is about more than the art itself.
“You can give them the same lesson and they’ll come out with something different,” Jude Amsel, a founder of the ceramics department, said as she gestured at students’ work. The students experienced a certain freedom through these workshops.
“It’s really about self-esteem,” Amsel said.
The arts school has kept the same overall approach, Modesto said. “It’s very traditional. We try to stick to the same philosophy” of encouraging unique artistic expression, Modesto said.
As the exhibition’s opening slowed down, some students gathered around a table garbed in brown paper and paint drops. Saia Kalash, 10, carefully attended to a light blue painted cup. She slowly dotted it in white.
When asked, she said it did not have a name. One student suggested calling it “Starry Sky.” This was just one of many pieces Kalash had done in her year and a half at the school.
“I like it a lot. There’s a lot of creative projects,” Kalash said.
Ella Kohve, 7, sat next to her, gliding a red line around her own cup. She’s only been at the school a few months, but so far she said she really enjoys it and encouraged any aspiring artists to get canvases so they can start painting what’s in their imagination.
“Art isn’t just what you make and what you show,” she said. “It’s what’s inside of you.”