In her classes, master’s-degreed art teacher Aly Smith of Audubon establishes a dedicated instructional model for students of all ages.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 5, 2022
For Aly Smith of Audubon, fine arts education is as much about individual self-expression and creativity as it is the cornerstone of a lifelong learning model.
A former public, private, and post-secondary educator, Smith established her business, The Artist Academy, around the same formalized curriculum she brought to her professional teaching career.
With a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) from the University of the Arts and a resume that includes graduate-level classroom experience, Smith brings the fundamental perspective of a fine arts educator to students from preschool to college.
After finding its footing at The Fish Tank coworking space in Haddon Township last year, The Artist Academy has grown into its own suite in a professional services building on the corner of the White Horse Pike and High Street in Haddon Heights.
For Smith, the move establishes a permanent space to support larger classes, additional camps and workshops, and an expanded array of advanced, technology-intensive techniques, like ceramics and metalworking.
Her instruction is rooted in fine arts education, but guided by students’ interests. Classes are grouped by ages (4 to 6, 7 to 10, 11 to 13, and 14 to 18), and span a broad spectrum of art forms including painting, drawing, ceramics, metalworking, multimedia, and more.
“Everyone who teaches here is a New Jersey certified teacher,” Smith said. “We teach to the standards, and students are being prepared for college. A ton of different disciplines influence lessons, but so do their general interests.
“Everything is ultimately preparing them for a career or a degree in art, but in the day-to-day fun, they don’t even notice that they’re building a portfolio from Day One.
“There is so much fun and color and creativity with every assignment, but it is a very serious curriculum that we teach here, and it is giving them what they need artistically,” she said.
View this post on Instagram
Smith also leans on her experience in higher education to help her high-school-aged students who are pursuing arts degrees to prepare for the college admissions process.
“I know what it takes to get into an art school, and to get a scholarship from an art school, so I try to give them that foundation as early and as frequently as I can,” she said. “I gear their abilities and their lessons to the expectations that they will eventually see, either professionally or in the admissions process.
“For me, always being in the school system, you have to have a goal in mind, and it’s always preparing them for a college or career, so I don’t really shake that,” Smith said. “Even though I want to have fun every class, and we do live in the moment that way, it’s always with a broad scope in mind.
“I think also if the school is serious, and I take it seriously, they as artists take pride in their skills and their talents and their art form,” she said. “If you do apply yourself, you will improve, and that’s something to be proud of.”
In addition to teaching student classes in Haddon Heights, The Artist Academy travels to senior centers and assisted living facilities to provide arts programming. There, as with her younger students, Smith finds more evidence that a well-rounded arts education builds lifelong skills.
“When I talk to those artists, they’re in their 90s, and they talk to me about the art lessons they had as a child, as if it were yesterday,” she said. “Or they say, ‘I was an art student but I haven’t painted in 30 years.’ They always look back on the art they took as a child. It never left them.
“When you give your child a gift of art lessons at 4 or 10 or 15, you’re giving them this experience that they can cherish for their entire life,” she said. “I’m watching it happen every day.”
The Artist Academy is located at 400 White Horse Pike in Haddon Heights. Weekly classes are held from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays. For more information, including arrangements for private paint parties, summer camps, and offsite workshops, visit theartistacademy.org.
Please support NJ Pen with a subscription. Get e-mails, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or try our Direct Dispatch text alerts.