On the outside Ventero Open Press Fine Art in San Luis appears to be a coffee shop, but after one takes that first luscious sip of coffee, so much more is obvious about this watering hole.
“Our numbers are small, but the impact is large,” said Jeremy Elliott, Ventero’s facilities manager, an up and coming photographer, and a pretty dang good barista. “What’s in it for us? Healthy community, art, balance, kids are off the streets. It’s like we’re sculpting the health, look and feel of our own community.”
In 2001, artist Randy Pijoan, with the help of Elliott, community members, and Colorado philanthropists, established Ventero Open Press to bring together the professional artist, art collectors, and the student artist in a symbiotic relationship that not only supports art, but mentors students who may otherwise fall through the cracks of society.
“Art performed in the closet only feeds narcissism. When we create art in community it supports the community,” said Pijoan, who is not only a teacher and Ventero’s executive director, is an accomplished artist himself. “I believe one of the ways we can save the planet is by teaching problem solving skills. What if we had ignored Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso?” Pijoan works with a small group of youth to help them see the value of their art, develop skills, and reproduce their art to help support not only themselves, but the press. He takes no salary, he charges no fees.
Damian Carson is one of those kids. He works quietly in the background and appears at ease in the gallery and studio. Of Pijoan’s guidance, Carson said, “He doesn’t tell me what to do or not to do, he shows me things I can use.”
The act of creating art isn’t purely creative, however, but also involves the use of math and history as well as other traditional academic skills. “We work on English to write an artist’s statement, when we do public relations and write copy for the website,” Elliott said. “In the future, we don’t want gallery owners to take advantage of our students because they don’t know the art business.”
Pijoan said, Elliott helps Carson and other students understand the business side of being an artist. “Jeremy insists any young artist selling something in Ventero’s gallery not only signs, but also understands, the consignment agreement.”
As a result of this informal yet successful instruction, Pijoan and Elliott develop meaningful and trusting relationships with the students. “We take initiative to be in the life of these kids, we’re involved with their families. We know other parts of their lives are important.”
Case-in-point: Carson was a few minutes late for work because he was deep in conversation with Ventero’s board president Kent Anderson. At Elliott’s prompting, Pijoan walked across the street with Carson to explain why he was late. Incidentally, Carson works at the oldest continuous business in Colorado – R&R Market.
Damian’s mom, Rebecca Carson, was waiting to visit with Pijoan after he returned. She glowed when she saw her son’s work and as she listened to Pijoan talk about Damian’s success. “He’s always been so sharp,” she said.
Ventero’s two working presses are used by not only professional artists, but they are part of the instruction. First, an economic lesson: youth learn they can sell several prints as opposed to one painting. Second, Elliott said, “Printmaking is procedural, it uses both sides of the brain. Third, an art history lesson: it introduces youth to successful artists. In fact, Damian’s work hangs next to Tony Ortega’s, who is celebrated internationally as an outspoken and community minded artist who has brought immigration and Latino issues to the forefront.
“The only way we can function is to have professional artists here, they are part of the grand trifecta,” Pijoan said. “Artists want to get out of Dodge.” Press rental also is less expensive than in the city and the professionals know their fees go to help the next generation of artists.
Damian’s work hangs next to Ortega’s and sells as much or more. “These students will never know their abilities if not faced with opportunities or role models,” Pijoan said. “If we only impact one kid a month, that’s huge.”
Ventero Open Press Fine Art is located at 316 Main St., San Luis, Colorado. Phone: 719-672-0557. Website: www.ventero.org