About Us


The AAHP serves as a classical — not recreational — plastic arts school for practitioners of all ages, and of all levels of experience.

The AAHP supports and enhances the art practitioner’s pursuit of deep craft command in studio and field. The AAHP serves this mission while following the teachings and practices of the stronger practitioners of Western culture—the old, modern, and contemporary master practitioners — be they famous, infamous, obscure, or anonymous. Through strong teaching and strong learning of time-honored craft practices, the AAHP experience equips the practitioner to remain a life-long beginner. This power helps him or her as a thinker, designer, and builder of work that aspires to art.


Ana Eloísa Soto-Canino

Director/Chief Instructor/Chief Safety Officer

Ana began her life in studio at age 9, to become an award-winning, classically-trained visual artist, as well as a studio and field instructor. She has served as officer, as well as judge, for various community-based arts events in Middlesex County, NJ. Ana has taught thousands of practitioners through the apprentice studio she founded in 1998, the Academy of Art of Highland Park, where the staff teach the deep craft practice of over 30 media and numerous art forms. Her young protégés routinely garner topmost awards in local, regional, and national competitions, and her teen Portfolio Prep students place in the nation’s top art colleges, schools of architecture, science and engineering, and liberal arts campuses. Many of her adult students have gone on to exhibit their works and realize many of their aspirations as artists.

Besides her long-term tenure at various apprentice studios and art schools in Puerto Rico, the USA and Italy, Ana has toured and taught in Puerto Rico, China and Botswana, while cultivating her interest in comparative cultural studies. Ana holds a Bachelor’s of Science from Princeton University in Psychology (1985), with a concentration in Visual Perception, and a transcript thick with art history studies. She holds a Masters degree from the New School in Urban Policy and Planning (1991), and incomplete PhD studies at the New School in Political Theory. Having served as an award-winning news journalist in NJ, Ana now writes on inquiry, exploration, creativity and artistic practice for the AAHP, in addition to directing all business and studio operations. Ana enjoys sport flying, swimming, fishing, dance, travel, and map collecting.

Aaron Balavram

Assistant Director/Senior Instructor/Studio and Staff Manager

Aaron Balavram was born in Sayreville, New Jersey, but grew up in the great town of Highland Park, where he has spent most of his life. He now resides in beautiful East Brunswick with his lovely wife and fellow artist Jasmine. Having always had an adoration for the arts and sciences, he found a second home at the Academy of Art of Highland Park, where he learned to explore the craft of fine art as a science. Aaron began his training at the Academy at the age of fourteen, and by the following year, he was eager to expand his knowledge by aiding in the teaching of his peers, which he has continued to do for the past fourteen years. He is now a senior instructor, as well as the head of the sculpture department and “The Sky’s the Limit” program for Artists with special needs.

Aaron has also branched out to serve the community with other art programs, such as “Bridges”, an Edison Township program for “at risk” youths, and is also heading the Veterans Housing Project donor-wall mural through the Highland Park Reform Church. He has also served as an after-school art teacher at Montesory Netivot, as well as the middle school and high school art teacher for the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center in East Brunswick.

Aaron has also been working with Ana on developing the Aii Field Studio, organizing field trips and outings for all you wonderful artists that just can’t wait to get outside! He’s always been somewhat of an outdoorsman himself, having been going camping and hiking with his friends and family for longer than he can remember.

Just know that when you give him a smile, you’re making his day!

Alina Gorbunova

Junior Instructor/Junior Studio and Staff Manager

Alina Gorbunova has lived almost her whole life in New Jersey – with the exception of one year spent in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. She started taking lessons at the Academy of Art of Highland Park when she was in fourth grade and started volunteering when she was 12. After working her way up the coach rank all the way to Honorary Captain (a rank made just for her) she was promoted to Junior Instructor, as well as Junior Studio and Staff Manager. 

Outside of studio, Alina loves to travel. She has been all over from Moscow, Russia to Vancouver, Canada to Alaska to Florence, Italy (the home of many great Renaissance masters including Leonardo da Vinci). On all her travels she makes sure to bring a sketch book along.  

Alina is currently studying Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rutgers University along with a minor in computer science, business administration, and art history. She is a member of the Engineering Honors Academy and an active part of research being done in the Industrial and Systems Engineering department. 

Amber Vizthum

Junior Staff Manager-in-Training

Amber, 20, of Metuchen, is a visual artist and musician. She has always had a deep love for the arts and has been practicing from a young age. She enjoys working with a variety of art forms—-from illustration, to claymation, to photography. She started taking classes at AAHP in early 2017. She was quickly hired to assist with studio management. She has since risen through the ranks to serve as student coach, and as Manager of the Skin & Bones Studio. Amber is now also Junior Staff Manager-in-Training as the latest member of the Senior Staff. Her fav food is….the pomegranate!

Michael Gorbunov

Junior Tech/ Junior Coach

When young, Michael Gorbunov tagged along with his sister – Alina Gorbunova – to art lessons at the AAHP. He saw a sprawling studio, and wanting to be a part of it soon joined himself. As an art student, Michael went through drawing and shifted into sculpture. Around this time, only in fifth grade, he found a side interest of computer graphics and began learning Blender – a software for 3D art. This set him up to tie in technical skills with artistic practice. Developing himself as a strong artist and a technically literate person, Michael found himself in position to become the studio’s only (to date) simultaneous tech and coach.

Today, Michael uses his free-time working on personal projects. Last year he spent over 50 hours working on board games – making the assets and heading a group of friends. This summer he has been programming. While not consistently creating art at home anymore, he does occasionally still dabble in the arts. His last painting session was a set of 3 watercolor paintings of his beloved dog Charlie, which he gave as presents to his family for Christmas.

The Work Crew

The Work Crew is the behind-the-scenes team that keeps the studio in working order. They come in on Friday when the studio is closed and toil like fairytale elves. Yet instead of working to the tinkling of silver bells, they play everything from old Beatles vinyl, to the newest indie hits. They do everything from vacuuming, cleaning, scrubbing, brush repair, furniture assembly and art supply shopping to washing all the rags the studio rag monster consumes. Everyone works together to keep this ship afloat. Without the spirited and almost heroic toil of our daring work crew team we wouldn’t have clean brushes, sharp pencils, or neatly organized works of art. 

In loving memory of Jauria

Official Studio Mascot


Live model and Officer-in-Charge-of-Morale. Yes, he made us laugh! His tail was the finest brush in the house. He was wickedly smart, the smartest dog you’ll ever meet. Jau-Jau was happy to stay locked in his kennel at student’s request.

The ArtMobile

It is our great pleasure to present the AAHP’s colorful set of wheels!

Our eye-catching ArtMobile is a Chevy Astro conversion van, seating seven, including the driver. It came together thanks to pure team effort. David Segal, a Rutgers University student and automotive connoisseur who also serves as the AAHP’s Systems Administrator, found and researched the vehicle on behalf of the AAHP. David assisted with all pre- and post-purchase matters. AAHP Director A.E. Soto-Canino came up with the original design concept for the full-vehicle vinyl wrap. That concept was then refined and produced by L.E. Weinstein, AAHP alumna and in-house Designer, who has since graduated from the University of Delaware and now works as a pro designer. Aaron Balavram, who serves as the AAHP’s Senior Instructor/Studio Manager, designed the AAHP’s logo as it appears on the hood, and served as consultant during the design process. Friday Work Crew teen member Nicole Carr serves as the ArtMobile’s Junior Maintenance Manager.

The ArtMobile is a workhorse, serving as cargo van, passenger van, and mobile art studio. The vehicle is registered, insured and licensed as an Omnibus-2 passenger van under the laws of the state of New Jersey, which permits the AAHP to carry paying passengers.


Be sure to wave or honk as we roll by!