Community art education program proves to be a creative success

UIU Associate Professor of Art Elissa Wenthe (left) provides Jane (Wilwert) Tucker of Sumner with a short demonstration during the University’s recent community education program in Fayette. Tucker, a 1974 UIU alumna, was among the local residents to participate in the ceramics course held in the UIU Performing Arts & Athletic Center.

Start with a spacious, highly functional facility. Add in advanced art equipment. Pour in people of the community. Stir in a little ingenuity. Mix well and soon admire remarkable creations of ceramic art.

For five creative weeks, a dozen local residents met on Tuesday evenings at Upper Iowa University’s (UIU) Performing Arts & Athletic Center (PAAC) to create handmade ceramic pieces. As part of the community education program hosted by UIU Associate Professor of Art Elissa Wenthe, the participating adult learners shared the PAAC art studio space with the University’s art students.

“Community education has always been a passion of mine,” Wenthe said. “I have wanted to start a community education program since I started teaching here 10 years ago. Prior to the opening of the PAAC last fall I didn’t have the room in Edgar Fine Arts to be able to host such a class. New skills can be taught at any age and at any level, and having community members working alongside students proves beneficial to everyone involved.”

A strong believer in lifelong learning, Wenthe took advantage of her program’s recent relocation to the more spacious PAAC to offer her first community education art class. She envisioned the program’s popularity and it didn’t take long for the community to prove her instinct correct. Enrollment for the inaugural class was filled merely six hours after advertising it across social media, with residents from Fayette, Elgin and Sumner among those in attendance. The students ranged from recent UIU graduates to area retirees.

As part of the community education program, adult learners are able to interact and grow artistically with each other. Wenthe stressed that the classes focus around having fun while developing basic skills in art. Each class starts off with a basic outline and demonstration, showcasing the art skills they will be incorporating during the course. Activities, such as making vessels and forms with ceramics, are some of the things the most recent class experienced. However, Wenthe enjoys hosting a flexible and constructive class room and if students have another interest they are able to pursue that art form as well.

“After taking the class, I have a greater appreciation for everything that goes into making ceramics,” said Amy Tucker, a Fayette resident who is also employed as UIU’s director of academic success.  “I am always looking for additional things to do during the evenings after work. It was interesting trying new things in a non-graded environment. Elissa did a great job communicating with each of us and helping us improve. My mom and I both took the classes together. It was fun to use this creative outlet as an opportunity to further bond with my mom, who is a retired art teacher and UIU alumna. The community enrichment that is being offered through these types of programs are amazing. It really showcases what the University and the surrounding community has to offer.”

UIU art education students were incorporated into the community education class as instructors. With continued success, Wenthe aims to schedule one community education class per academic session. Registration times have yet to be set, as logistical details are still being determined. Wenthe also hopes other UIU departments can develop community education programs of their own.

“It is invigorating to have community members who are so passionate and hungry for the opportunity to learn, choosing to do this willingly in their free time,” Wenthe said. “These classes have also sparked my interest as an educator, learning new ways to teach and seeing how students approach their work differently in this environment. From this opportunity, I have enjoyed watching my Campus students and community education students connect, building friendships and pushing each other to work to their best ability. It creates an interesting dialogue, with students sharing and learning new skills from each other.”

The newly leased PAAC facility has created an exciting space for two- and three-dimensional art, and the UIU baseball, softball and golf teams have taken up residency in the 30,000-sq.-ft. building. The university continues to raise funds for PAAC upgrades. Persons wishing to further support the Peacock baseball, softball, golf and art programs, should visit


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