Saturday, June 2, 2012

DAVA Center inspires local youth

Jose Angel admires glass pieces. (Photo courtesy: DAVA)
By Lorenzo Chavez  
“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Picasso

Like Picasso’s quote, students with Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) are learning to keep an open mind and to maintain their creative energies well into adulthood. Founded in 1993 the nonprofit community arts center serves about 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students every year. Using visual arts as a teaching tool the organization helps build self-esteem, teach job skills and a family-friendly link to the neighborhood.

Based in northwest Aurora’s art district in the shadow of the historic Aurora Fox Theater on Colfax Avenue, DAVA provides an open studio for ceramics, painting, drawing and photography; a computer lab to learn basic digital graphics; a portable art school that shares artworks with schools, centers, and public facilities; and job training themes of problem solving, positive attitudes, and teamwork.

Led by Executive Director Susan Jenson, the nonprofit operates out of several disjointed retail strip buildings built in 1948. Despite not having an official main entrance or front door, Aurora students and visitors are welcome with open arms and attendance and funding continues to grow steadily every year. With support from the city of Aurora, Aurora Chamber, federal block grants, individual donations and corporate and foundation grants, schools and volunteers, the organization has steadily repaired and renovated much of the space to maximize functionality for classrooms, storage, offices and exhibit space.

As summer approaches a long line of youth will be waiting to enroll for extended hours this summer, Jenson says, noting that about 70 percent of participants are Latino students and class sizes represent 1-to-10 teacher-to-student ratio.

“We’re taking what we have and restructuring it and repurposing it,” Jenson says. “We’re staying flexible and have renovated sections one at a time ... but it was never built to serve 900 kids,” she says, smiling.

Artist instructors, college volunteers and visiting artists provide diverse perspectives and a boost of imaginative ideas. Artist and gallery manager Viviane Le Courtois, originally from France, ensures a vibrant, eclectic gallery space, portable artwork in new venues and field trips.

Last year students produced murals that were displayed for five months at Denver International Airport and partnered with Shadow Theatre and Colorado Film School on video and performance projects. Artist and computer lab leader Luzia Ornelas, originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, oversees students who use the computers to create posters, produce digital images and mixed-media for the gallery.

Based on recent surveys, DAVA has helped boost grades and curb truancy. Some alumni return as staff members or volunteers. Alberto Veronica enrolled in DAVA when he was 10 years old and after graduating from college has returned to serve as DAVA’s Marketing/Administrative Coordinator and Studio Assistant.

The latest gallery exhibition, “Experiment!”, runs through July 13 and features student works and an installation by artist Rosane Volchan O’Conor and drawings and magnetic sculptures by artist Gary Parkins.

“A lot of parents in this neighborhood are worried about their future and the future of their kids,” Jenson says. “They see this center as a safe place and a trusted resource. We’re successful because this is a safe environment.”

An official ribbon cutting to celebrate completion of a new renovated building is scheduled for later this month. For more information visit or call 303-367-5886.

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