Welcome to part 5 of our series Meeting the Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts Event Representatives. Last post we met Karen Benson. Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts programs would be nearly impossible to run without the help of volunteers. After receiving specialized training through the Associates volunteer office, studio arts event representatives are poised and ready to assist both teachers and students in a variety of important ways. In return for their commitment which often spans eight weeks, volunteers have the option of actively participating in the class where they have been assigned. In this special series of interviews, we offer our readers an insider’s perspective on our studio classes and share just a little bit about these special people who volunteer with Smithsonian Associates on a regular basis. We hope you enjoy meeting them.
Interview with Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts Event Representative, Elizabeth Siegel
How long have you been a volunteer?
I haven’t been a volunteer at the Smithsonian Associates very long, just since May of this year.
Why did you decide to become a Smithsonian Associates Studio Arts volunteer?
I was looking for a way to volunteer at the Smithsonian and I came across this Smithsonian Associates position and I thought that it would be great. I love the arts and love to create art so it just seemed to fit perfectly.
What is most rewarding for you about volunteering?
Just being there for the students, some of whom have never done any sort of art before, and seeing them experience and understand how to draw or put paint to canvas for the first time.
What is your favorite Smithsonian Museum? Why?
Yikes, that is a tough one for me. I love them all, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the National Portrait Gallery. I can wander around that place for hours and still not see everything; the amount and variety of paintings housed in there boggles the mind.
Do you have an arts background?
Yes and no. I took a variety of art classes throughout my childhood and into college, but my classes were off and on and, alas, my college degree is in History.
What classes have you participated in?
In the Spring term I volunteered in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain with Shahin Shikhaliyev, which was a very interesting class. Even the students who had never done any formal drawing were able to understand the perspective and the composition techniques that Shahin was teaching them. This summer term I am volunteering in the Beginning Drawing class and an acrylic painting class called Painting in the Right State of Mind; both are fun classes with people eager to learn and expand their artistic abilities.
Do you have a favorite class?
So far my favorite class has been Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It was just fun and relaxed and the students had a great time. By the last class all the students were able to make phenomenal self-portraits that they can all be proud of.
Favorite assignment/project from our classes?
I am a sucker for a traditional still life. So anytime the class does a still life I get excited because I like to compose and figure out how to translate what I see in front of me to what I draw on paper. From the darkest shadows to the folds of drapery it’s all a challenge…but a fun one.
Any tips for other volunteers, teachers or students that they wouldn’t know from the course description?
Come prepared to enjoy yourself and learn art techniques you never really thought would be possible.
You get to talk to the students. Have you noticed any common obstacles they have had to overcome to take the class (ex: unsure of their art skill, etc)?
Some students who do come into the classes have no arts background other than doodling in their high school notebooks. They definitely come to class unsure but after the first lesson they loosen up and they are eager to tackle the tasks and challenges of the upcoming classes.
If you could design a class, what would it be?
Oh wow, what a question! Off the top of my head maybe a class that emphasizes the environment and sustainability, maybe using mixed media or found items like empty paper towel rolls, bits of yarn, and bottle tops to make interesting and different pieces of art. I’m not sure how that would present itself as an art class but it would definitely be interesting.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We all need a little art in our life, and the Studio Arts program does just that. What better place to learn how to draw or paint than at the Smithsonian Institution?