Ceramics Still Going Strong
October 12, 2016
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Having 5,000 pounds of clay in a back room might be considered unusual for some people. For Dos Pueblos ceramics teacher Eliesa Bollinger, it’s business as usual.
Along with the clay, Bollinger, who heads the only public high school ceramics program in Santa Barbara, is responsible for buying glazes, replacing lost tools, and maintaining the kilns; all without district funding.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District, according to Assistant Superintendent Meg Jette, does not distribute money based on building or program, but does pay each campus’s water and electricity bills directly.
As the district is not responsible for individual programs, funding must be found elsewhere. One alternative is funds from the state lottery, a fraction of which is distributed among the public schools of California at the end of the fiscal year. However this money, said DP Business Office Manager Denise Entwistle, “fluctuates drastically from year to year”.
Additionally, state money, which is held at the district office, has a fairly extensive approval process to access. Entwistle must first submit a requisition form to DP Principal Shawn Carey, who must approve it before electronically sending it to the district office, where it then requires the approval of between one to seven people before the funds can be withdrawn.
“It can take anywhere from magically a week, which never happens,” said Entwistle. “Up to three to four months. The average is about four to six weeks”.
As a result, Bollinger has to find additional sources of funding. The latest solution has been to request voluntary donations of 40 dollars from her students at the beginning of each year. This money goes directly to the DP ASB fund, from which it can be accessed much sooner to reimburse costs. Prior to this arrangement, said Entwistle, Bollinger was using money out of her own pocket to keep the class supplied.
To supplement this, Bollinger writes grants to the Student Art Fund and the Parent Teacher Association, whose support affords the class opportunities which, said Bollinger, “I couldn’t do otherwise”.
It is partly because of this, Bollinger believes, that ceramics classes have become so rare. In addition to costing significantly more than pen and paper art programs there is all that much more work for the teacher to collect the funds and maintain the machinery necessary to keep the class running.
As a result, said Bollinger, there increasingly is not “anybody who wants to spend the time and the effort to keep it going”.
Another problem is that, for the same upkeep issues, many colleges have removed their ceramics programs. UC Santa Barbara, from which Bollinger got her training in ceramics, has since removed the program.
“It’s kind of an older, not exactly a dying art,” said Bollinger. “But there aren’t as many programs as there used to be when I was young”.
But for DP students like Senior Emily Gates, who has a particular appreciation for art, ceramics offers a rare degree of expression.
“I can’t draw for the life of me,” said Gates “So I thought that handbuilding and like using your hands to make art would be a cool outlet for me”.
Now in her second year of ceramics, Gates is able to to express herself with a love for, in her words, “whimsical” miniatures, baked glazes, and pop-art cheesecake.
Likewise, senior Anna Brown has found new levels of opportunity in ceramics. Brown said that in addition to the freedom the class provides, she especially likes being able to work with textures and producing “tangible” art.
“That’s something that you can’t get in drawing and painting” Brown said.
Ultimately, it is students like Gates and Brown who count on continuing ceramics in college, who keep the program afloat. Thanks in part to their annual donations, there has not been a single year under Bollinger’s tenure where the program ran dry.
“It’s really just the will of the people,” said Bollinger. “It’s kind of democratic.”
Without student interest and support, Bollinger believes, she would have to teach something else.
So Bollinger keeps writing grants and collecting donations, as she has been doing for her past ten years at DP. As long as the interest of the students remains, so will she.