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IS183 Adjusting to Digital Platform, Welcomes New Faculty Artists
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
10:33AM / Sunday, February 21, 2021
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Artists Emma Rothenberg-Ware, Merudjina Normil and Victoria Fiorini have joined the faculty of IS183 Art School of the Berkshires.

Artist and speaker Pops Peterson, seen with students in this file photo, his hosting a scholarship fundraiser to help children attend IS183 Art School.

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — A well-known Stockbridge art school quickly pivoted to digital learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with success and is now welcoming three new faculty artists to its talent pool.

"It's been full of changes, and full of innovation, and definitely challenges," Executive Director Lucie Castaldo said in regards to the historical year. "Virtual programming is going great, better than any of us expected because we really had no idea."

Since last April, IS183 Art School has had 648 students enrolled virtually in its adult programming and 90 in the Young Artist Program. The art school had a returning student rate of 40 percent and was able to reach a new population of students nationally and internationally through a digital platform.

Artists Victoria Fiorini and Emma Rothenberg-Ware began teaching classes this past week and Merudjina Normil will start in March.

Fiorini works with metals that she feels magnifies the beauty of the Earth, turning "forged by the universe" elements into wearable sculpture with her own two hands. Fiorini is a trained designer who is inspired by the desire to create comfortable, meaningful jewelry. She strives to make pieces whose top priority is how they feel and interact with the human form, measuring the success of a piece by its comfort, meaning, and foresight of the piece's interaction with its surroundings in its final form.

"It's amazing to be able to offer metal courses remotely," Castaldo said.

Rothenberg-Ware is a photographer living and working in the Berkshires who has identified as a creative and an artist since a young age. She has learned and created with various mediums throughout the years and along the way was inspired to dive deeper into photography.  Rothenberg-Ware attended the Hallmark Institute of Photography and graduated in 2013.  She said she is excited to teach and connect with her students.

Normil is a Black Haitian American, non-binary multi-medium and multi-dimensional artist currently residing in Pittsfield. An alumni of Williams College and Pittsfield High School, they are interested in how different mediums can tell a story and hold a story. Normil sees art as a medium of healing and community and a reminder that the process is about "moving through and allowing time to see, to be, and to heal." They are an interdisciplinary artist and strives to challenge the perception that artists are married to one medium, working with audio, video, movement, painting, and drawing.

Castaldo was surprised that IS183's enrollment was similar during the pandemic to past years, flagging the only difference being in cost, as it would be offering programs at the full rate if they were in person.

She believes the faculty has adjusted their teaching styles well to create the same type of space virtually as they would in person. Veteran teacher Paula Shalan is even offering virtual office hours so students can get extra one-on-one time, Castaldo said.

Not missing a beat, the art school began online programming in April and because of its success, will continue to offer online classes after the pandemic's end.

"We know that at some point we will return to normal, and when we do, of course we're going to welcome students back into our studios and offer in-person programming, but regardless, we're continuing virtual programming," Castaldo said. "There's been a lot of positives that have come out of this."

The online platform has made IS183 classes available to a wider audience. Castaldo explained that many students are out-of-towners who come to the Berkshires for the summer, so the school immediately saw a lot of enrollments from people who wouldn't be able to travel for in-person classes at this time.

She said it was wonderful for the existing community, but also for students whose situations and locations changed throughout the year and were able to continue their course.

"We're reaching all sorts of new people, internationally, across the country, who have not taken classes with us before," Castaldo said. "And a big mission point for us is supporting our Berkshire County artists, that is especially at IS183 our greatest resource, so being able to introduce the talent that's in the Berkshires to our nation and internationally is really really exciting."

The art school is encouraging community building and combating isolation by hosting collage clubs and stitching socials free and open to the public. This program began last January and became virtual with the rest of IS183's programming.

Castaldo said these clubs are more of a social group, as they aren't classes.

Shortly after purchasing all new kilns, the school's ceramic studio is open with strict COVID-19 guidelines that only permit one person to the space at a time.  It is open to students currently enrolled and community members, who can make an appointment to rent the studio at a rate of $25 per three-hour session.  

Castaldo was also excited to report an upcoming fundraiser with Berkshires-based artist Pops Peterson that benefits the Pops Peterson Scholarship Fund for students ages 5-19 with financial needs.

Peterson formed this fund so that students from lower-income households can take classes free of charge.

The fundraiser titled "Pops Peterson's Popcorn Party" began on his birthday, Friday, Feb. 19, at 11 am with the sale of gourmet, artfully packaged popcorn. The fundraiser ends on Feb. 23 and Castaldo said it is a very socially distanced, virtual work-friendly cause.

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