The Academy of Art of Highland Park
A Brief History
The Academy of Art of Highland Park and Gallery, Inc., (AAHP) is a premier center of learning in the visual arts. The AAHP offers deep training for all ages in both studio practice and field work. The AAHP also offers a teen leadership program through employment.
The studio presents its students with the deep craft practice of numerous visual arts forms, including fine drawing, illustration, graphic design, field drawing and painting, fine painting, muralworks, sculpture, collage, and more. Within these many genres, our practitioners can learn to work with up to 30 different media.
The studio also features an art and design portfolio program for teens seeking to enter college. They have in the past, and continue to this day, to directly use their learning experiences in studio and field at the AAHP to gain admission into the nation’s leading colleges in the arts and design, architecture, the natural and social sciences, IT, and engineering.
The AAHP began in February 1998 as The Creative Genius Workshop. That’s when classically-trained artist and writer Ana E. Soto-Canino began teaching drawing for children on her kitchen table at 2 River Rd, Highland Park, NJ, USA.
Ana began with one student when she opened doors. She had three students by the second week. By the second month she had over 30 students, and Ana bought a new drafting table and a handful of equipment to accommodate the new studio’s growing needs. By June 1998 the student numbers were in the high 70s, including special needs students, whom she taught for free. Into the fifth month of operations, parents began clamoring for adult classes in drawing. Ana took on teen and adult students. Soon the student numbers were too large to fit in Ana’s apartment on River Rd. With the help of her then landlord, she opened a new sparkling, modern studio space in the basement of her apartment building, where her advancing students could now pursue watercolor painting and ink works, in addition to the 11 or so media they could already explore in drawing.
Growth & Development
The teaching studio filled to capacity within its first year in the newer and larger space, and by 2002, again with a little help from friends, Ana and her growing team of instructors and administrators were able to secure yet a larger space at 727 Raritan Ave., Highland Park. The addition of an art library allowed for deeper study into the history of studio ideas and practices, and the operation was renamed the Academy of Art of Highland Park. The student numbers, high level of creative production, and the AAHP’s reputation for strong craft training in the visual arts continued to rip at the seams. The student numbers steadily surpassed 100, then 130, then 150, then 170 and on and on. Next, Ana and her tiny staff created a field program, which soon delivered classes in situ to students in China, Africa, and Puerto Rico.
In 2016, two years before its 20th anniversary, the AAHP again expanded to feature two operating studios at 727 Raritan Avenue. At the time, the active student numbers surpassed 220. Many students continued to remain active across spans of many years, growing in sophistication and craft command, as they each went on to engage in newer practices under different art forms at the AAHP.
The practitioners of the AAHP have always garnered top prizes in local, regional, state-wide and national juried competitions.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
In March 2020, the pandemic suddenly forced our doors to close. We regrouped online in May 2020 with a fraction of our students. The studio then continued to grow again, this time online. Online classes were presented for adults starting August 2021. As of 2022, the studio offered online classes for youngsters ages 7-18, and adults, and without losing our standards of excellence and commitment to deep learning.
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!