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Queens Program Helps Teen Artists Hone Their Craft

 The High School to Art School helps aspiring artists hone their skills and build their portfolios.
Queens Council on the Arts' High School to Art School Program
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ASTORIA — In the harrowing world of college applications, students applying to art school face an added challenge: putting together a portfolio that will wow an admissions officer.

But one organization is helping young artists get a leg up.

The Astoria-based Queens Council on the Arts has offered its High School to Art School program for more than a decade, helping hundreds of teens build their artistic skills — and their portfolios — while guiding them through the art school admissions process.

"Art schools are pretty competitive," said Jillian Greenberg, the program's coordinator. "Our goal is to reach students that would otherwise have less access to portfolio development programs. A lot of them are really expensive."

High School to Art School, by comparison, is free. Over the years, the program has seen participants go on to study in art programs at colleges including Pratt, Carnegie Mellon, The School of Visual Arts and Rhode Island School of Design. The program enrolls about 15 students in each fall, spring and summer session, with the fall semester specifically designed for seniors applying to college.

"This is the most gratifying thing we've ever done," said Barbara Pryor, president of Queens Council on the Arts' board of trustees. "This is really our jewel of a project."

High School to Art School teaches teens the basics of creating an art portfolio, from drawing techniques to color theory, and students also learn how to discuss their own work and receive help writing college essays and applying for scholarships and financial aid. They take field trips to museums like MoMA and The Met and hear guest lectures from working artists.

Instructor Yeon Ji Park said she looks to not only teach the traditional academics of art, but to get students to think critically about their work and explore their interests as an artist.

"We want to make sure that this program is not just a place where we tell them, 'This is the right way to make a portfolio, this is the wrong way,'" she said. "This way, we ensure that they're in a pathway toward making unique and genuine artwork."

Gabriella Nieves, a senior at Hillside Arts and Letters Academy in Jamaica, said she's always been interested in art.

"I drew before I could write," said the 18-year-old, who has been attending High School to Art School since her sophomore year. "When I started off I was really nervous, because I didn’t know the people and I was kind of shy about my work."

She now credits the program for helping her refine her skills, and giving her a boost of confidence in her work, and plans to attend the New York City College of Technology next year and wants to pursue a career in illustration.

"Had I not taken this program, I probably wouldn’t be going to art school," said Chantal Feitosa, 17, a senior at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan.

She'd been previously considering liberal arts colleges to study writing and journalism. But she ultimately opted to pursue art, and she'll be attending Rhode Island School of Design next year, where she wants to major in painting or illustration.

Her goal is to be a fine artist, she said, but she also wants to get a master's degree in teaching — so she can run a program like High School to Art School.

"I want to create community programs similar to these, where I could provide quality art classes for high school kids," Feitosa said. "To kind of nurture their talents."

For more information about the High School to Art School program and how to apply, visit Queens Council on the Arts' website.