By Kendra Sitton
Art on 30th with the Ashton Gallery will host a charitable show of solidarity on Sat., April 23 to raise money for Ukraine. From 4-8 p.m., visitors can view over 60 pieces of art in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine made by local artists who will donate at least 30% of the proceeds from any sales. In addition, the 15 professional artists associated with the studio created 150 affordable sunflower-themed miniature pieces in which all proceeds will go to the Red Cross.
The art show is open to all local artists to submit pieces and is an example of the unique community of support and collaboration that has made Art on 30th a success over the past seven years.
The spacious building on 30th St. hosts classes, rented studios for individual artists and the Ashton Gallery. Kate Ashton founded the art haven seven years ago after she received an inheritance from her father following his death.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ And I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to go to the Caribbean with it.’ I said, ‘I want to do something. I want to build something, start something,’” Ashton said. “I’m an artist and I wanted to make an art center that would serve the whole community.”
She actually first saw the abandoned building that now hosts the lively art community while touring another potential space across the street. The building had been on the market for 10 years and was rundown.
“It was in such terrible shape that no one wanted it and I thought ‘Oh my god, that’s perfect for me,’” Ashton said.
She decided the decrepit North Park building would be the best spot for what she envisioned. She gutted the building and remodeled it to hold classrooms on the first floor and studios on the second floor. She likes being in North Park rather than wealthier parts of San Diego.
“It’s kind of a hipster kind of place. It’s not La Jolla; it’s not Laguna Beach. It’s not highfalutin. This is a down home place,” she said.
Since opening, she has carved out a unique market in the San Diego art school space. When she first opened, she was the only teacher and she attempted to follow what other studios were doing: offering classes on still lifes and traditional art styles.
“It just wasn’t working. I couldn’t get the teachers. I couldn’t get the students. And I said ‘Maybe this is not the path. I think I need to go on the path that I want to go on,’ which was ‘I want to do experimental things,’” Ashton said.
Eschewing traditional methods, she focused on teaching abstract painting, multi-media expression and other contemporary methods of creation. With the new focus, the space flourished. Even some of the traditional, realist painters who are a part of other studios sought out Art on 30th so they could learn to loosen up and explore something new.
“I’m always looking for what’s new, what’s fresh, what’s experimental,” Ashton said.
Today, classes include alcohol and ink, graffiti, concrete and plaster, pouring and resin, and carving blocks. The abstract painting and drawing classes are renowned although certainly the artists face the same derisive response this style often faces: That a child could do it.
“Abstracts are built on layers – layers and layers of self-doubt – it’s not something a child can do,” said an artist at Art on 30th.
In addition to her focus on contemporary art styles, Ashton also wanted to create a space in which artists supported each other.
Michele Joyce, a longtime student who is now a professional artist based at the center, said in other places she felt that she was in competition with other artists but here she felt supported.
Ashton teaches students not to criticize in harsh ways. She gives them a script to use to provide helpful suggestions that do not insult what the artist is creating.
“That kind of criticism is painful to artists. And it does not create a good community. It creates a lot of angst in the community,” Ashton explained. “I’m very big on cooperation over competition among artists.”
Another unique aspect of the studio is its professional mentorship program. Ashton saw a need for people to learn how to become professional artists. She wanted to come alongside them, hold their hands, and show them the path to making this their career. Classes are taught at different levels from beginner to professional. There is also a mentorship program that teaches students how to market and sell their art which culminates in a gallery show in which they can sell their first pieces – opening doors to be featured in other galleries.
“I believe that it is possible for artists to make a living at art,” Ashton said.
Another belief that Ashton wished to prove true was that a business could be successful without solely focusing on profit.
“I wanted to see, can I run a business that’s based on kindness and courtesy? A lot of business are based on competition and bottom line – and not that I’m not interested in the bottom line. Of course I am! – but I wanted to see if that could be done. And I feel I’m doing it. I feel I’m succeeding,” Ashton said.
That focus on kindness will be demonstrated at the cooperative art show on April 23. Artists across the region will be collaborating to bring awareness and funds to Ukraine while adding beauty to this world.
— Reach Kendra Sitton at firstname.lastname@example.org.