A group 35 selected high school juniors from Nebraska and Iowa are getting the opportunity to get immersed in art like they haven't before.

The Hastings College Open Space for the visual arts is an “art immersion program,” according to Chris Hochstetler, Hastings College dean of innovation and creativity. From June 2 to June 8, the high school students spend at least seven hours a day working in a rotating art class schedule, in addition to optional studio time. They worked in the Jackson Dinsdale Art Center (JDAC) and the Gray Center.

“It's a lot of art really fast,” said Sara Swist, a Hastings College visual arts professor and instructor for Open Space.

The students worked with a mixture of 3D and 2D mediums. This includes glassblowing, sculpture, digital media, ceramics, painting and drawing. For many of the students, this was a chance to work with something new.

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Keegan Towey of Gretna adds a petal to a glass flower with the help of instructor Kyle Beaman (left) and assistant Michael Wunderlich (right) Tuesday during Open Space at Jackson Dinsdale Art Center on the Hastings College campus.

“My school is too small to offer something like sculpture,” said Sophia McKee, from Lawrence/Nelson High School.

McKee's school isn't the only one that has limited access to mediums like glass blowing or digital media. A major motivation for Open Space was to give high school students the tools and supplies to work with something else, especially three-dimensional.

“There seems to be some consistency across the state in the public schools and private schools for that matter, and that tends to be more two-dimensional (mediums),” Hochstetler said.

The classes were designed to teach the students a technique in the medium, and then let the student make whatever they want. In doing so, the resources at Open Space open doors for student's creativity

“I've asked the students 'have you ever done this before and they've said no. Clearly it's something they aren't been taught,” Hochstetler said.

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Omaha South student Janeth Martinez uses sandpaper on a wood carving during a sculpture class at Open Space Tuesday at Jackson Dinsdale Art Center on the Hastings College campus.

The freedom to explore creativity is exemplified in a weeklong working project made of pipe cleaners that hangs on the wall in the JDAC. Students can, at any point, add pipe cleaners to the piece, as long as their addition is non-representational - it cannot represent anything.

“It's 100% abstract,” Hochstetler said.

On Tuesday, Mena Sullivan from Westside High School worked with her group in the glassblowing studio in the JDAC. In the morning session, they worked with studio aids to make hot sculpted glass pieces and cold fusion pieces. In the afternoon, they designed glass cups and then sand blasted to create a textured design.

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Clarissa Weitzel of Treynor, Iowa works on a glass flower during Open Space at Jackson Dinsdale Art Center Tuesday on the Hastings College campus.

“I wish we could do that the whole time today,” Sullivan said, referring to the hot sculpting and fusing.

In the ceramics class, students learned to sgraffito, by placing a dark-colored glaze on a molded plate, then scratching off the glaze in a design to reveal the clay underneath.

“We get to be independent and make our own choices,” said Keegan Towey from Gretna High School.

In addition to the new available mediums, Open Space encourages the students to step out of their comfort zone and try a different medium. Hochstetler said that students usually have a favorite medium they like to stick to when they come in

“This immersion program is designed to get them out of that comfort zone and have them experience something that they have not before. You can really start to see them shine and be happy with the results,” Hochstetler said.

Each art student was selected from a pool of about 65 applicants, according to Hochstetler. Applicants applied with a five-piece portfolio, a letter of reference and a written essay explaining why they want to take part in the program.

According to Thomas Burdette, one of the studio aids, said that it is easy to help students create a high quality art piece when they are eager to work.

“They're focused. They want to learn something. They want to be here,” he said.

Hochstetler said that the program is open only to juniors because they felt at that point, the students would have enough understand to try more advanced techniques.

In addition to working in the art studios on campus, the students spent a sketch night in the Hastings Museum on Wednesday, where there was plenty of material to draw. The Hastings Art Council helped pay for admission and after hours.

On Saturday at 10:15 a.m., an exhibit will be held for students to show off the work they made over the week.

Hastings College is also expanding their Open Space program this year to include a performing arts week. The performing arts week, June 23-30, will have classes on instrumental music, piano, vocal music, acting and technical theatre.

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