Foundersland: Inspiration from “Artists who can Teach”

By Marty Sklar, Founder, Past President, Member of the Board of Directors

June is the traditional time of graduation ceremonies. Our Ryman Arts graduation will take place June 17at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park.

Like other graduations everywhere, ours is an emotional time. For parents, grandparents and siblings, it’s a night of great pride as they watch their family member receive his or her recognition – many to become the very first in their family to move on to experience a college education.

The young artists leaving us realize they are turning the page on a formative part of their lives, and moving on to new challenges. For 95 percent of our Ryman Arts graduates, that means more learning ahead. Many have been recruited by major college art programs – a tribute to the foundation of drawing and painting we provide at Ryman Arts.

There is always a small group attending our graduation ceremony who quietly basks in a special pride as they watch their suddenly former students cross the stage to receive their recognition. Working under the direction of our Education Director Rebecca Tuynman, they are our artistic staff, our teachers. Each of them brings professional skills to our classes that come from years of experience as teachers or working artists. It’s the dedication of teachers as a profession that I want to speak to you about in this Foundersland blog.

I come from a family of educators, so you know I have a certain prejudice, and a closet full of pride, when I speak about that honorable profession. My father was a teacher and principal in the Los Angeles schools. My brother Robert Sklar was a renowned Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University. My son, Howard, teaches English literature at the University of Helsinki in Finland, where he and his family live. And nephew Leonard is a Professor of environmental programs at San Francisco State University.

I guess you could say that I am the “Black Sheep” of my family … but I’m told that in my half-century of creative leadership at Walt Disney Imagineering, I taught a generation of young talent “the Disney way” as we designed and built the eleven Disney parks around the globe. At Disney, Herbert Ryman was one of my mentors.

Since the beginning of our Ryman Arts program 25 years ago, we have taken great pride in our ability to attract artists with special talents in communicating and teaching the fundamental artistic skills we believe – and Herb Ryman believed – a young artist must master to be successful in a career in the arts. Not every artist is proficient as a teacher, but Rebecca and our executive Director Diane Brigham have the knowledge, and the professional contacts, to staff our classes with “artists who can teach” as well as draw. In our program, “to draw” has double meaning: one is the marks our students make on paper; the second definition is “drawing out” our students so that they understand what they are doing and can define and present their work to their peers, and beyond.

If you attend our graduation, you will hear our students singing the praises of the classroom mentors who taught them so much and so well during their time in our program. For many, a bond has developed that will last far beyond graduation. You can see and feel the emotion.

As a member of the Ryman Arts Board, I am pleased to speak for my fellow Board Members to congratulate – and thank – all of our teachers who make our classes at Otis College of Art and Design, and California State University Fullerton, places of learning new skills, growing young artists, and inspiring future talent. All of you make us as Board members very proud to attend that annual Graduation, and listen to the so-well deserved praises your students “sing” to you!