“The beauty of art is that it allows you to slow down, and for a moment, things that once seemed unfamiliar become precious to you.”
The moment I opened the door and stepped into the ADK ArtRise studio, my heart was lifted by the contagious laughter and joy that filled the room. The smiling faces of owners Jess Ackerson, Brittany Sternberg, and Julia Csanko were the perfect addition to the warm sunshine cast upon the various paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other artistic creations on display.
ADK ArtRise is new to the neighborhood of Saranac Lake, but it already feels like home, a result of the owners’ passion for art, their knack for embracing anyone who walks into the studio, and their commitment to the community. Sternberg is on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Ackerson is on the Downtown Advisory Board. Csanko recently put in an application to join the Arts and Culture Board.
“We all care about this community a lot,” said Sternberg. “We want to help the community and the arts thrive.”
The essence of ADK ArtRise is multi-faceted, allowing a space for artists to display and/or sell their work, the community to gather for events, and a space for visitors to come in, peruse the studio, take a photo of themselves in cutouts within famous paintings, and say hello. But ADK ArtRise’s course offerings are something anyone and everyone can and must try, regardless of age, experience, or ability.
An idea is born
Just as with all great ideas, ADK ArtRise came from casual conversations between Ackerson and a former boss. For ten years, her boss encouraged her to start an after-school art program. At the time, Ackerson and Csanko were co-workers at Nori’s. She shared the idea with Csanko as the two had discussed collaborating for some time. From there, the universe went to work.
After searching for potential spaces, the present location of ADK ArtRise unexpectedly appeared in October 2020. While Ackerson and Csanko had not intended on renting a building so soon, they knew it was an opportunity that could not be passed up. Ackerson shared her idea with Sternberg, her long-time friend and now co-owner. “Brit is basically family," said Ackerson. "So I mentioned that we were doing this, and she was like jet fuel to Julia and I. We were saying things like, ‘Oh...that's a cool idea...yeah...’ but Brit brings rocket fuel to any situation, and she just thrusted us forward.” From there, ADK ArtRise was born.
As this tremendous trio worked towards making their studio a reality, the stars continued to align. “Any time we ran into an obstacle it was like the universe would just be like, ‘Oh, here you go. Oh, here's your next step. Oh, here’s a person to help you with your next step,’” said Ackerson.
“Every day, there's a new little miracle that tells us we're doing the right thing,” added Csanko. “It’s been very assuring.”
A space for all abilities and ages
Offer an art class to someone, and there’s a strong chance of hearing the following response: “I’m not an artist.” Well, my dear self-doubting, budding artists, ADK ArtRise will prove you wrong.
"‘Help people find joy in the act of making’ is our mission statement,” said Ackerson. “My theory with making anything is that a lot of people feel really judgmental towards the things they are capable of making. I try to promote that it doesn't matter what it looks like at the end. It's better to make it and have it be imperfect than to not make it at all.”
The scheduled classes offered at ADK ArtRise are geared towards all ability levels, and they are designed for anyone to be able to drop in on any day, even if the class is part of a longer series of classes. During a series, the studio will have materials prepared for drop-ins to be able to participate in what is happening in class that day.
Sternberg leads crafting classes for younger kids to adults. The adult craft night is one of her favorites. “We tell people, ‘Come in and do all the things from Pinterest that you won’t do on your own,’" said Sternberg. "So we all come in and do our things together while socializing, and it is such a great night.” Sternberg also does pre-K level classes so adults can bring in the kids and share a memorable art experience together.
Csanko offers fine arts drawing and painting for adults as well as younger kids, ages 5 - 9 and 9 - 14. Anyone older than 17 is invited into the adult classes, but younger individuals with advanced skill sets (or just needing a place to sit while their adult attends class) are more than welcome.
Csanko also runs classes for artists with disabilities. “I started this class in honor of an individual I had met while working at North Star" she said. "I wanted to be able to have something for him to be able to come in and do, too.” These classes offer artistic opportunities for everyone.
A frequent student to the studio is a young man named Matthew. Matthew uses a wheelchair, and his disability impacts the use of his hands. Knowing this, the owners of ADK ArtRise find ways to make his experience as accessible and enjoyable as possible. They found a table that is the perfect height to be placed next to Matthew’s wheelchair and allow for him to comfortably work on his art. When he is not using the table, a vase of flowers sits on top of it in the corner to ensure Matthew has access to it whenever needed. The owners also set aside a paintbrush with a particularly long handle and use velcro to help him hold the brush so he is able to paint.
Csanko expressed that regardless of someone’s artistic ability, physical ability, and skill level, adaptations will always be made for each person based on their capabilities and needs. “There's a lot of people that could go out individually and be fine, and then there's people that need somebody to help them,” she said. “How we adapt is by figuring out what they can and cannot do, and then for the things they can do, we push them to do more of that.”
Sternberg agreed, adding, “You meet them where they are. In all classes, I’ve seen us find [individuals] at the lower end of the skill set in the class that they're in, and we provide one-on-one instruction with them or change up the project a little bit. Our class sizes are small enough that between one person teaching and one person being a backup, we're able to kind of meet everybody where they are and help.”
The excitement experienced by artists as they delve into uncharted territory is something Ackerson deeply appreciates. “You can see the students light up," she said. "They might find a material that they've never used before that they really love. Or maybe all of a sudden, they can understand where the project's going, or they just haven't made anything like that before or to that level. You can just see it on their faces — they just start glowing.”
Get your hands dirty for date night!
My fiancé and I had the opportunity to participate in one of ADK ArtRise’s date night events, and it was a treat in every way. Our evening provided us the opportunity to create a cast of our hands by creating a mold, filling the mold with plaster, and — the best part — using tools to excavate the plaster casting out of the mold. Not only was it exciting to see our final product, but we had just as much fun seeing the creations of other couples participating.
While the plaster set in the mold, we had time to go into town to grab a bite and a drink before returning to complete our project and proudly take home our creative creation.
Other date nights have included creating gifts for Mother’s Day, participating in drawing games about your partner, and making art out of nails and string.
A space for Saranac Lake to come together
While ADK ArtRise is obviously a space for art, it is so much more. The building was rented in October, but the owners needed time to acquire the materials necessary to put on classes. After receiving a grant for a distance learning program from the Adirondack Foundation, the studio was re-purposed as a distance learning center for the children of essential workers once schools announced the would be closing in November. The program continued through December break, and ADK ArtRise officially opened its doors on January 4, 2021.
Although the building has officially opened as the studio, classroom, and workshop it was intended to be, it remains a space for the community to utilize. ADK ArtRise has hosted poetry readings, and Dungeons and Dragons groups. Earlier this year, ADK ArtRise began to be used as a community rental space for the creation of the red heart posters posted around Saranac Lake. The posters are part of the "The World Needs Love Campaign," a campaign started in Maine to highlight the need for more love and less hate in the world. Saranac Lake resident Gail Brill came across the idea and brought the posters to our community. The posters are free although donations can be made. Donation proceeds go to local charities such as the Interfaith Food Pantry and the North Country Mutual Aid Fund.
ADK ArtRise also displays the work of local artists, including those available for purchase, as well as the option to buy hand-crafted jewelry and children’s art kits. The jewelry — as well as the display cases featuring the pieces for sale—was created and donated by Sternberg’s mother-in-law who previously owned a Saranac Lake store called Two Horse Trade Co. The children’s art kits were created by Bluseed Studios as the pandemic unfolded as a way to offer art enrichment to kids no longer able to access art classrooms at school. The kits remain available for purchase.
Come out and join us!
“You're always going to be learning something, and some of those imperfections are the milestones of the process,” Ackerson said. “Be willing to suspend the judgment and just delve into the joy of making. I think it's really important that you don't have to be a professional artist to do anything and to make anything and really love what you're making.”
“Take a chance,” Csanko added. “Sometimes you just need a little push to dive in. Everybody at every age can ‘make.’ And when you make something, you feel good, and everyone deserves to feel good, right?”
So channel your inner Frida Kahlo and Kehinde Wiley during your next visit and stop in to say hello, take your photo in the painting face cutouts, or make your next masterpiece!