• 34°

In Suffolk, art isn’t a spectator sport

Getting people to not only enjoy the arts, but to get involved in them, sums up a lot of what’s going on at the Suffolk Museum and Gallery and the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts right now.

Watching or listening to a performance in a theater or touring an art exhibit can be a valuable experience all to itself. Learning some of those same artistic talents first-hand, though — even if it’ll never be at a professional level — is something these two cultural centers offer to all Suffolk residents.

“We want to know what the community wants. That’s why our class offerings are growing,” said Pearl Harrell, president of board of directors for the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

The center is less than four years old, but it offers a wide array of classes and workshops for anyone, from the greenest novice to well-practiced artists and musicians.

Since the Center for Cultural Arts is still new and still has space to grow, Harrell said, directors are asking and searching all the time for new class ideas. It makes literal and figurative sense, since the building that is the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts was Suffolk High School for three generations up until the school’s closing in 1990.

“We’re focusing even more on the education aspect of what we can offer,” Harrell said.

Classes for kids and teens at the Center for Cultural Arts include many different theater subjects, dance, radio theater, sign language, weaving, drawing, clay and pottery courses and more art courses.

A pre-ballet dance class is available for kids ages 4 to 7, and a number of other classes are designed for kids age 6 and up. Most classes meet once a week for about six weeks.

The SCCA hosts music classes for guitar, bass guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, piano, sax, clarinet, flute and voice. Visual arts courses range from a variety of photography subjects to making jewelry to weaving and spinning. Dance and fitness classes include yoga, Pilates, Zumba, clogging, ballet and self-defense.

The Suffolk Museum and Gallery and the Suffolk Art League work together to provide many classes and workshops each season.

The Suffolk Art League, founded in 1976, is a community arts organization dedicated to making the arts accessible to the people of Suffolk. The League is based at the Suffolk Museum, where an upcoming show is the Suffolk Art League’s Exhibit of Excellence.

“The mandate we’re charged with is to provide education and art opportunities to the general public,” said Nancy Kinzinger, museum coordinator for the Suffolk Museum and Gallery.

Classes hosted by the Art League and Museum go from Young Artists — a one-day class for kids age 3 to 5 — to a quilt class for adults in which students go from basic techniques to using a variety of patterns and techniques to make an heirloom quilt within four weeks.

Linda Bunch is director of the Suffolk Art League and teacher of many of the courses at the museum.

“We offer classes that really are good for anyone. We have students from 3 years old to 80. Our oldest teacher is in her 80s,” Bunch said.

“We love what we’re able to do here. We just love the arts. The arts make life worth living,” Bunch said.

“Our classes are quite reasonably priced. Some of what we do is grant-funded. We have a lot of different funding avenues, so we’re able to serve a huge variety of people, and our classes serve people across a diverse economic strata,” Kinzinger said.

Upcoming classes in the spring include the Young Artists class, egg decorating, clay windchimes, three levels of pastel painting, two quilting classes, watercolor painting, portrait painting, encaustic painting, a photography workshop and a symbolic journal book workshop.

Currently, the museum and gallery is hosting Exhibit of Excellence: Suffolk Student Art 2010, a collection of artwork from Suffolk sophomores, juniors and seniors.

From March 5 to April 16, the museum will host the 26th Annual Juried Photography Exhibit, billed as the oldest and largest photography exhibit in Hampton Roads.

The Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts has a busy schedule of theater and music coming up, so if simply being a spectator is one’s speed, that’s fine, too.

Oliver! and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are musicals in the SCCA Family Entertainment Series. Oliver! will have four performances March 12-14, and it’s the second production by the center’s own SCCA Community Players.

Tom Sawyer, by the Hurrah Players, is set for March 28 at 3 p.m. Student tickets for Tom Sawyer are only $10.

On March 21, the U.S. Air Force Vector Ensemble is putting on a free concert. Starting April 10, the SCCA is hosting “Fields and Forests, Waterways and Wetlands: The Art of John Audubon.”

Audubon was “the Founding Father of American Art,” and he’s said to have painted portraits of every bird known during his life in the early-to-mid 19th century. All the prints in the exhibit will be for sale, with proceeds going to the SCCA and the National Audubon Society.