North Park Art Studio favors cooperation over competition

Art on 30th with the Ashton Gallery will be hosting a solidarity charity show on Saturday April 23 to raise funds for Ukraine. From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., visitors can see more than 60 works of art in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine by local artists who will donate at least 30% of the proceeds from any sale. In addition, the 15 professional artists associated with the studio have created 150 affordable miniature sunflower-themed pieces with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

The art show is open to all local artists to submit pieces and is an example of the unique supportive and collaborative community that has made Art on 30th a success over the past seven years.

The spacious 30th Street building hosts classes, rented studios for individual artists, and the Ashton Gallery. Kate Ashton founded art heaven seven years ago after receiving an inheritance from her father after his death.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ And I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to go to the Caribbean with that.’ I said, ‘I want to do something. I want to build something, start something,” Ashton said. “I am an artist and I wanted to make an art center that would serve the whole community.”

In fact, she saw the abandoned building that now houses the bustling arts community for the first time while visiting another potential space across the street. The building had been on the market for 10 years and was run down.

“He was in such terrible shape that nobody wanted him and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is perfect for me,'” Ashton said.

She decided that the decrepit building in North Park would be the best place for what she envisioned. She gutted the building and remodeled it to accommodate classrooms on the first floor and studios on the second floor. She likes being in North Park rather than the more affluent neighborhoods of San Diego.

“It’s kind of a hip place. It’s not La Jolla; it’s not Laguna Beach. It’s not high alcohol content. It’s a place of home,” she said.

Since opening, it has carved out a unique market for itself in the San Diego School of Art space. When it first opened, she was the only teacher, and she tried to follow what other studios were doing: offering classes in still lifes and traditional art styles.

“It just wasn’t working. I could not have the teachers. I couldn’t have the students. And I said ‘Maybe that’s not the way. I think I have to go the route that I want to go,” which is, “I want to do experimental stuff,” Ashton said.

Avoiding traditional methods, she focused on teaching abstract painting, multimedia expression and other contemporary creative methods. With the new orientation, the space has blossomed. Even some of the traditional realist painters who are part of other studios have sought out Art le 30 so they can learn to relax and explore something new.

“I’m always on the lookout for what’s new, what’s fresh, what’s experimental,” Ashton said.

A teacher leads an abstract drawing class. (Photo by Kendra Sitton)

Today, courses include alcohol and ink, graffiti, concrete and plaster, casting and resin, and carving blocks. Classes in abstract painting and drawing are renowned, although artists certainly face the same derisory answer that this style often faces: that a child can do it.

“Abstracts are built on layers – layers and layers of self-doubt – it’s not something a child can do,” said an artist from Art on 30th.

In addition to focusing on contemporary art styles, Ashton also wanted to create a space where artists support each other.

Michele Joyce, a lifelong student who is now a professional artist based at the center, said that in other places she felt in competition with other artists, but here she felt supported.

Ashton teaches students not to be harsh critics. She gives them a script to use to provide helpful suggestions that don’t insult what the artist is creating.

This studio showcases some of the contemporary art that students learn in class at Art on 3

“This kind of criticism is painful for artists. And that doesn’t create a good community. It creates a lot of angst in the community,” Ashton explained. “I’m very keen on cooperation rather than competition between artists.”

Another unique aspect of the studio is its professional mentorship program. Ashton saw a need for people to learn how to become professional artists. She wanted to come to their side, hold their hand and show them the way to make it their career. Classes are offered at different levels, from beginner to professional. There is also a mentorship program that teaches students how to market and sell their art, culminating in a gallery show where they can sell their first pieces – opening doors for showing in other galleries.

“I believe it’s possible for artists to make a living through art,” Ashton said.

Artists can rent their own rooms to create studio workspace. (Photos by Kendra Sitton)

Another belief that Ashton wanted to prove was that a business could be successful without just focusing on profit.

“I wanted to see, can I run a business based on kindness and courtesy? A lot of business is based on competition and the bottom line – not that I’m not interested in the bottom line. Of course I am! – but I wanted to see if it could be done. And I feel that I do. I feel like I’m succeeding,” Ashton said.

This focus on kindness will be demonstrated at the April 23 Cooperative Art Exhibition. Artists from across the region will collaborate to raise awareness and funds for Ukraine while adding beauty to this world.

Art lines the hallway where the studios are located.
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