Art education at a bargain: Center will offer kids classes for $10

Artist Nancy Alcala poses for a portrait at El Salvador Park in Santa Ana on Tuesday, July 7. Three days out of the week Alcala teaches a kids clay class, a kids art class and a family art class at El Salvador Community Center in Santa Ana. She will be one of the instructors at the Center 4 Creative Arts in Costa Mesa this summer.
(Kevin Chang, Weekend)

Costa Mesa, per its official motto, is the City of the Arts. And this summer, a small group of people is out to make residency cheaper.

The Center 4 Creative Arts, a newly formed alliance, plans to offer six weeks of art classes in July and August for children in preschool through sixth grade.

The cost for the program is $10 — and no, that’s not $10 for each week.

Rather, it’s the bill for the entire program.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t have access to the arts because they’re so expensive,” said Nancy Alcala, a ceramics instructor who will teach students how to sculpt insects. “Sometimes, an organization has to come in to allow access to that. That $10, I think, captures the attention of people who normally can’t afford art classes.”

For six consecutive Fridays, from July 17 through Aug. 21, children can try their hand at painting, drawing, drumming, sculpture and more.

The program’s founders, Charlene Ashendorf and Caryn Blanton, don’t plan to offer free classes — for them, payment brings a promise of quality, and they expect to raise the price in subsequent years. But their charge for the first summer, which comes to about $1.67 a week, isn’t far from zero.

The Costa Mesa residents, who began planning their project in September, met several years ago through the Mika Community Development Corporation. Blanton had served as the Westside nonprofit’s youth development director, and when Ashendorf volunteered to write grants for Mika, the two struck up a friendship.

Blanton and Ashendorf had something else in common: a belief in community arts. Both women had served on the city’s Cultural Arts Committee, and Blanton had helped to oversee an after-school arts program for Mika at the Westside shopping center Triangle Square in the late 2000s.

“We’d have, like, three or four classes going on at a time, so someone might be painting and playing guitar over there and dancing over there and sculpting in the back room, and that was just all going on from after school, 4 o’clock to 9 o’clock at night,” she said.

Mika ultimately canceled the program, due to lack of funding, but Blanton and Ashendorf continued to pursue the possibility of arts education in some of Costa Mesa’s lowest-income areas. (The Center 4 Creative Arts is open to residents of other cities as well.)

The women studied other arts program in the region and cited the Irvine Fine Arts Center as an inspiration. They shared their ideas with city and school officials and ultimately assembled a board of advisors, which includes former Mayor Elizabeth Cowan and Newport-Mesa Unified School District Arts Commission facilitator Scott Fitzpatrick.

The Center 4 Creative Arts isn’t the only inexpensive art offering this summer in Costa Mesa; the school district and city are offering a free summer arts camp at Costa Mesa High School in July and August. The Segerstrom Center for the Arts will offer its free annual Summer at the Center program for at-risk teenagers, although students must be accepted for it in advance.

Still, Cowan is happy to see any additional program for residents who can’t afford a ticket at the city’s pricier venues.

“I think the enthusiasm that Caryn and Charlene bring to this endeavor is something that will grow the program over the years,” she said. “I really believe in their mission of making the arts and art space available to everybody.”

While the classes this summer cater to children, the Center 4 Creative Arts has a pair of events planned for older audiences. On July 29, Anthony Damet Uranga will lead seventh- to 12th-graders in graffiti art at Wilson Park, while on Aug. 20, a panel will discuss the importance of community arts for an adult audience.

This summer, Mika will host the children’s classes at the Maple Learning Center. Afterward, a permanent home for the Center 4 Creative Arts is a top priority for the founders, who seek to lease an event venue as well as studio space for artists.

“We would like to offer singles, adults, families a permanent place on the Westside of Costa Mesa,” Ashendorf said. “That’s our vision.”



What: Center 4 Creative Arts summer classes

Where: Maple Learning Center, 1981 Maple Ave. No. 1, Costa Mesa

When: 10 to 11 a.m. for preschoolers (with adult guardians), 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for kindergartners through second-graders, 1 to 2 p.m. for third- through sixth-graders, Fridays from July 17 to Aug. 21

Cost: $10 (registration available from 1 to 3 p.m. July 14 and 16 at the Maple Learning Center)

Information: (949) 836-5123 or