Access art

K12/TEJAS annual Art Off opens doors to education

By Karen Ander Francis

Photo: Artist-in-residence Terry Hitt at work in his K12/TEJAS studio; photos: Bill Franz

Fling open the doors to the building on the corner of Jefferson Street and Patterson Avenue—you know, the brightly colored one with the nearly life-sized buffalo out front—and step into a world pulsing with creative energy. Cross the threshold into a gallery like none you’ve ever experienced before. There are no hushed voices here or small spotlights illuminating the art to its best advantage, no folks standing back and perusing with pursed lips, sagely viewing the work in front of them.

Instead, the K12 Gallery and TEJAS is a cauldron, a giant simmering crucible of a gallery devoted to demystifying art and making it accessible to all by offering classes (over 30,000 classes in nine counties last year) and by providing studio space for artists-in-residence, who work alongside students. “Artists at work—we aspire to bring them all under one roof, professional artists teaching and mentoring [the young people],” explains Rebecca Cantrell, newly appointed marketing and development director.

The brainchild of Executive Director Jerri Stanard, a former Dayton public schools teacher who saw the academic benefits of art making and recognized the need for supplementary art programs, K12 opened in 1997 on Third Street in the Oregon District. Six years ago, its mission expanded to include studio space for working artists and classes for adults, and the Teen Educational and Joint Adult Studio (TEJAS) was born.

The merged gallery soon outgrew its already expanded space on Third Street, and is now filling “every square inch” of the Jefferson Street building, according to Rebecca Sargent, program director, now in her 18th year with the gallery. Sargent volunteered as a college student at K12, and returned after earning her M.F.A. at about the same time that TEJAS was added. “I love this place,” she enthuses. “I am very passionate about what we do here. It’s my love of art—I am an artist—not just that, but the power art brings to people to make a difference, not just to one person’s life, but to the community.”

“Community” is a word often spoken in connection with K12 and TEJAS. Like most nonprofits, it relies on the community for support and supports the community in return. “Everyone who comes there, as volunteers or as students, is really enriched in both directions,” says Terry Hitt, an artist-in-residence. “You give and receive in that space.”

Significant to this two-way synergy is a program called Artists in Training. So much so that it is the sole recipient of proceeds from TEJAS annual fundraiser Art Off, to be held Friday. “Requests for scholarships always exceed expectations,” Sargent explains, “because we don’t turn anyone away.”

AIT is an after-school program for talented teens, providing training and mentorship in a studio setting. Students meet three times a week for two hours, working with professional artists to create quality pieces for art competitions and develop professional portfolios for college admission. “Seeing the students working side-by-side with professional artists is synergistic and exciting,” Cantrell says.

Each year, the AIT produces two public art exhibitions, collaborating with 12-15 professionals. The most recent project, Signs of Suicide (S.O.S.), was a massive undertaking with 30 double-sided panels, each four by eight feet.  Like pages in a giant book, the hinged panels convey the telltale signs and symptoms of suicide in order to help prevent such tragedies. S.O.S. debuted in late October at Oakwood’s Out of Darkness community walk and will continue traveling to area high schools and organizations, including the VA.

“The public art component is important to students,” Sargent says, “because they are making art and see their work go out into the community and make a difference.”

“The program is really dependent on the continued support of the community,” Hitt says. “It offers a wonderful place for young people of all backgrounds to find each other and interact with each other,” he says, adding, “the thing that touches my heart is the low-income youth who get scholarships to take classes there.”

Hitt, whose studio at K12 and TEJAS is home to his works-in-progress, has a history with K12, dating back to its genesis, when he served on its second board of directors. “I’ve always had an eye on K12,” he says.  Recently when he needed to relocate his studio space, it seemed only natural to take up residence and cache his lifelong body of work at K12. “I love the energy and activity of the artists coming and going,” he says. “I can talk to other artists. The sense of community is really rewarding for me.”

Retired since 1998 from teaching art at the University of Dayton, Hitt is also one of the 46 artists whose photographic portraits by local photographer Bill Franz will be an Art Off highlight. The exhibit, Behind the Scenes, shows the artists at work and will be accompanied by examples of their work. “Think of it as working artists supporting art education,” Franz says.  Behind the Scenes will be on display Nov. 426.

The Art Off, a fast-paced evening of creativity, includes a live painting competition among 30 artists with their completed works auctioned later in the evening. These Miami Valley artists vie for cash prizes and the coveted “Knot Award,” forged by Dayton artist Hamilton Dixon. Student works will also be on display, and lanterns, crafted especially for the Art Off by Sue Daniels, K12’s newest staffer, will be for sale. In addition, food, music, and the silent auction promise to make this year’s Art Off a one-of-a kind fundraising experience—itself a work of art.

The sixth annual Art Off Fundraiser takes place Friday, Nov. 11 at K12 Gallery & TEJAS, 341 E. Jefferson St. in downtown Dayton. The event runs from 6:30–10:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person or $75 per couple. For tickets or more information, please visit

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