1st Portfolio Day draws 40 art hopefuls to Five Points Gallery

By N.F. Ambery, Special to The Register Citizen
POSTED: 03/29/15, 5:44 PM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO

Image: N.F. Ambery – Special to The Register Citizen Robert Calafiore, assistant dean at the University of Hartford’s art school; Power Boothe, professor of painting at the University of Hartford’s art school; and Janet Nesteruk, professor of fine arts at Northwestern Connecticut Community College in Winsted conduct a question-and-answer session to a group of 40 participants during “Portfolio Day” at Five Points Gallery in Torrington on Saturday morning. 

TORRINGTON >> Representatives from three area colleges evaluated local aspiring artists’ portfolios Saturday morning during the inaugural “Portfolio Day” program at Five Points Gallery at 33 Main St.

Forty high school and community college students looking to transfer schools also attended the gallery’s subsequent panel presentation entitled “Not All Artists Are Starving,” in which the college representatives outlined career possibilities in the visual arts today.

Joanne Nardi, director of enrollment at Northwestern Connecticut Community College in Winsted, said, “It’s great in that you see students that have never had the opportunity before to show their work to college professors.”

Richard Baker Jr., 17, a junior at Torrington High School, attended the event with his mother, Donna Wanklin of Torrington. Baker brought his oil paintings of urban-life moods and colorful Andy Warhol-inspired prints. Attending at the behest of his school’s art instructor, Baker said he received some great art advice from the attending college representatives. He said he ultimately wants to become an art teacher.

Rebecca Koonz, 17, of Farmington High School brought her sketches and was accompanied by her aunt. She, too, said she received valuable feedback. “It’s really helpful in getting at what I need to do.”

Older student Lisa Booth, 49, of North Canaan, said she attended the event because she was interested in transferring from Northwestern to a four-year college.

During the panel presentation “Not All Artists Are Starving,” Judith McElhone, executive director at Five Points Gallery, introduced the four speakers and said they were “a test case. Next year you will be three times the size. And everything will still be free and open to the public.”

Robert Calafiore, assistant dean at the University of Hartford’s Art School, opened the presentation by showing a commercial from Sony that put a spotlight on its artists and the company’s commitment to recruiting them for jobs. “I’m not promoting Sony but it is remarkable for them to present the artist as a problem-solver, as a critic thinker,” Calafiore explained.

He told the audience, “It’s all about the way you apply your skills. What art school does for you is enhance the skills you already have and how to solve problems. These skills can be applied to the boardroom in various industries. You offer your point of view.”

How art instruction applies to the job market can be unpredictable, said Calafiore. “Calligraphy classes inspired Steve Jobs in creating the various fonts on Apple computers,” Calafiore claimed. “It’s how the dots will connect to the others. When you get a chance to look back, it will make sense. When you are at a place where you say, ‘I don’t know what I should be,’ it’s fabulous. You don’t need to know. Enjoy experimenting and don’t be afraid. Follow your passion and likes, and the rest will fall into place.”

Calafiore said, “Artists are people who collaborate and communicate. That is all art schools do — they show how to do it. The creativity in problem-solving comes from you.”

Calafiore quoted a recent New York Times article in which the worldwide art-buying market grew 7 percent last year to a total of $68 billion.

Power Boothe, professor of painting at UHart’s Art School, quoted a recent Harvard Business Review article that “the M.F.A. is the new M.B.A.” (referring respectively to a Master of Fine Arts and a Master of Business Administration college degree). Boothe said art-making cuts across various industries. Quoting the same article, Boothe said, “(General Motors) thought they were in the business of building cars but they were actually in the business of designing. It’s the designing that sells cars. The role of the artist is so effective it disappears.”

As for what art schools are seekingin a student, Pam Bramble, an associate professor of art at the University of Connecticut’s Waterbury campus, said, “I have worked for 25 years at UConn, and one thing I have noticed is that you need to be true to yourself,” Bramble said. “Each one of us is born with a certain set of skills and talents that, if you can follow them, you will succeed.” Bramble warned of the danger of securing a double major in college as a safeguard, saying, “If you go into the arts with the mindset ‘I need to get a job’ and take a double major in accounting and art, you will be competing against people who really want to become accountants.”

Bramble said it’s OK to be uncertain about specifics. “You have something to say and you are unsure where to go,” she said. “That can be a beautiful place. You need to be in the moment.”

Calafiore seconded the sentiment, citing a former student who kept making art despite being unsure of her direction. “She did printmaking but then got involved with textiles,” Calafiore said. “Now she is a top designer at Kate Spade, designing handbag patterns.”

When looking at potential art students, Boothe added, “I prefer a student to challenge me. I think they need to be proactive and take charge of their education. A lot of people can show us how an apple can look like an apple. But so what? It’s 2015 — so why are you doing it? Nothing against representational painting but you marry your skills with ideas and concepts.”

Janet Nesteruk, professor of fine arts at Northwestern, added that the artist has some advantages over other professions: “You can use the same skills in the practical side of your life, You can go back to that creativity and way of problem-solving. It opens up the possibilities.”

McElhone said Portfolio Day is a low-key program. “Usually these kind of events are at high-stress, large conventions. Here you can present drawings to college representatives and get advice.”

It was a hopeful message for attendees.

“Not all artists are starving,” continued McElhone, amplifying the event’s theme. “There are so many careers in the arts these days. Art in the 21st century has changed so much.”

The Five Points Gallery opened its doors in the summer of 2012 in a temporary space on Main Street. It was named after the five streets that intersect at the shop’s corner in downtown Torrington. McElhone said the organization’s growth has occurred quickly and that Five Points offers opportunities for aspiring artists as well. Volunteers helping with gallery’s Portfolio Day included interns past and present from five area colleges. “They get experience in every area of working in a professional gallery,” said McElhone. “Every single one of them returns to work here later as a volunteer.”