A community cultural environment, Susan Jenson says. That’s how she describes Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA), a nonprofit that strengthens the Aurora community through art education programs for youth ages 3–17.
“In urban communities where parents simply don’t have the resources or access to the arts, DAVA is one of the leveling grounds where everybody gets together and communicates and learns,” says Jenson, executive director.
DAVA was recently selected as one of the top 12 National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs. Jenson and 13-year-old student representative Boris Cochajil went to the White House to receive the award from First Lady Michelle Obama.
“It was a fantastic adventure going to Washington and it was just such an honor,” Jenson says. Before joining DAVA 12 years ago, she worked in art galleries and pursued a painting career.
Every staff member at DAVA is a professional artist, as well as a teacher. Jenson says it is a co-learning environment. A youth advisory group meets four times a year to discuss what interests the students and decide a main theme for the year. The 2013-2014 theme is cultural connections, an important piece of DAVA.
“At DAVA, you are friends with everybody and that’s a big goal here to make everybody understand that you’re human and they’re human so all of us should come together,” Cochajil says.
Every year, nearly 1,000 kids—mostly from working immigrant families—come to DAVA. Ninety percent of the kids live in Aurora, but it also draws from Adams, Arapahoe and Denver counties.
DAVA offers two main programs—Open Studios and Job Training in the Arts.
Open Studios is an introduction for elementary students to the different mediums of art including painting, drawing, sculpture, watercolor, mural design and more. After completing Open Studios, kids can apply as middle-schoolers to be accepted into job training. DAVA received the award specifically for its Job Training in the Arts program, which focuses on art and technology. Students come up with an idea, research, pick a medium, produce artwork and show their work in the DAVA gallery.
As part of the program this year, kids created Art Bots and worked with the Colorado Film School to produce a robot-themed movie, complete with robot romance and robot attacks.
Although Cochajil does not intend to be an artist—he’d like to be a chemist or teacher—he says everything he’s learned at DAVA transfers into his life.
“We’re all going to be ready for the day when our bosses say, ‘you did this wrong, now repeat. And we won’t be like ‘oh, I’ll just leave it like that.’ No, we’ll be like, ‘I’ll repeat it and make it better,’” Cochajil says.
The DAVA gallery displays student art five times a year. The holiday showing is 4:30–7:30pm on Friday, Dec. 5. DAVA, 1405 Florence Way, Aurora. For more information, visit davarts.org.