Who We Are: Origins & Heritage
Da Vinci’s Toolbox (DVT) is a premier art and design online studio program for children and teens, directed by Aaron Scott Balavram. Mr. Balavram also serves as Assistant Director of the Academy of Art of Highland Park, Inc. (AAHP). DVT was launched as the AAHP’s newest program in 2020.
The AAHP, in turn, serves as a live teaching studio, in Highland Park, NJ, USA. Founded in 1998 by Executive Director and Chief Instructor A.E. Soto-Canino, the AAHP offers classical training studio in the visual arts and design. The AAHP has grown steadily and, on several occasions, explosively, attracting practitioners of all ages from over 35 zip codes in central NJ, and including students living outside the state, while also drawing international students visiting central NJ. As the roots of DVT, the AAHP live studio is well-known for serving both beginners and experienced practitioners, ages 5 through adulthood. Our learning experiences are highly tailored for the individual, who then works with the teaching staff and with peers in a small, age-based group. With a varied course structure offering multi-year levels of advancement, training at the AAHP covers over 30 media and numerous art forms, and includes a signature program in safety training in material science, instrumentation, and workshop operations for artists, designers and builders, delivered in age-appropriate terms. The AAHP also operates a Field School for exploratory work beyond the controlled conditions of the studio, whether outdoors, or at non-studio indoor settings. *
For more than two decades, the AAHP live studio has served as a rich community for creatives of all ages. The AAHP is known for offering support to many other community-centered organizations, for its free program for young artists with special needs, and for presenting scholarships for children from households in crisis. The studio features a small, but rich, art library for its students, hosts exhibitions, and offers a leadership training program for teens through formal employment and volunteer programs.
DVT continues the AAHP’s time-honored pedagogy of art as a leading form of inquiry. Through this learning experience, the youngster learns to transform subjective experience into uniquely authored works and experiences that are relevant and important to one’s communities, far beyond the self. The DVT pedagogy remains an intensive, progressive, individual-entered practice in small groups, where young practitioners develop studio craft through cumulative skills-building and exploration. And our youngsters never want their class to end.
DVT also serves as a launch pad for Big Blue Sky Creatives LLC, (BBSC), a unique online project and portfolio construction program for older, advancing teens. BBSC also emerged online from its roots in live studio, growing out of the AAHP’s highly successful college-track program for advancing teens. Originally named the Portfolio Prep Program (P3), and later named the Portfolio Prep Program Online (P3.O), the project and portfolio program matured into the current online programming at Big Blue Sky Creatives, now an independent company.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAHP live studio operations remain closed to the public and staff until further notice. We will retain online programming upon re-opening for live studio ops, and continue our strong association with the BBSC.