Meet the DVT Staff
Assistant Director/Chief Instructor, DVT/Senior Safety Officer/Staff Manager
Aaron Balavram was born in Sayreville, New Jersey, but grew up in the great town of Highland Park, NJ, 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, Mr. Balavram, then a teen, found a second home at the Academy of Art of Highland Park, where he learned to explore the deep craft practice of the fine arts.
Mr. Balavram 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 sixteen years. For years he has served as Assistant Director and Senior Instructor of the AAHP, as well as the Program Director and Chief Instructor of Da Vinci’s Toolbox (DVT), the online children’s program of the AAHP.
Mr. Balavram has also branched out with the AAHP to serve the community with satellite 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 Reformed Church. He has also served as an after-school art teacher at Montessori Netivot, as well as the middle school and high school art teacher for the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center in East Brunswick.
Mr. Balavram has also been working with AAHP Director A.E. Soto-Canino on developing the ArtVentures International Field School, organizing field trips and outings for practitioners who 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!
Ana Eloísa Soto-Canino
Director/Chief Instructor/Chief Safety Officer
Ana received her first drawing lesson at age 4, her first drawing kit at age 6, and began studio life at age 9. Through long-term engagements with studios and art schools in Puerto Rico, the USA, and Italy, she went on to become an award-winning, classically-trained visual artist, as well as a studio and field instructor and arts administrator. Ana directs all business, studio, curricular and pedagogical operations at the art and design teaching studio she founded on her kitchen table in 1998. Launched as The Creative Genius Workshop, it grew fast into the Academy of Art of Highland Park (AAHP) and the shingle went up on main street. Ana has taught nearly a thousand younger and older practitioners, in studio, in the field, and online.
At the AAHP, Ana and her fellow staff members teach the deep craft practice of over 30 media and numerous art forms. Her students routinely garner topmost awards in local, regional, and national competitions, and many have gone on to exhibit their works and realize many of their aspirations as artists, designers and makers. Ana’s teen portfolio students place in the nation’s top art colleges, schools of architecture, schools of science and engineering, and liberal arts programs.
Ana and the AAHP staff have always offered a free studio program for young artists with special needs, and from households in crisis.
Ana served as a guest presenter at Henry Street Settlement House, as arts programmer for the Capital Area Urban League, as volunteer member of the Arts Commissions of Highland Park, and as judge for various community-based arts events in Middlesex County, NJ. Through the AAHP, she has collaborated with many schools and community programs, and continues to mentor students engaged in independent studies who need to collaborate with a field expert. Ana has also taught studio practice in Puerto Rico, China, and Botswana.
Ana holds a BA degree from Princeton University in Psychology (1985), with a senior thesis on visual perception, and a transcript heavy with art history studies. She holds an MA degree from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, The New School (1991), and incomplete PhD studies in science and tech policy and political theory, The New School.
She is the recipient of assorted internships, volunteer and staff positions at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; the 92 Street Y; the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, and El Museo del Barrio.
Ana served a whirlwind stint as a multi award-winning reporter, news analyst and investigative journalist in New Jersey (1986 Rookie of the Year, NJ Press Association). For the past two decades, Ana has written for the AAHP on inquiry, exploration, creativity and artistic practice.
Likes, Dislikes & Loves
Ana is a vegetarian and an advocate for ocean conservation. She doesn’t like shower caps, umbrellas, or shoes. Because of her ethics and aesthetics, she shuns social media. She loves sport flying in small aircraft, as well as swimming, fishing, dance, and adventure travel around the world. She is a serious collector of antique maps of the Caribbean. She also collects (lots of) books, genuine poster art, and rocks, minerals, fossils and gems.