In a room at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, a dozen students are hard at work drawing comics.
"I like seeing their creative ideas. This one is a spy thriller, with these super soldiers. One funny detail is there's a painting on the wall of just framed cherries, isn't that funny? You couldn't make that up -- it's totally funny."
He pointed to another frame on the table: "This guy does an upper-cut and jet packs another character out of the atmosphere."
The class is one of many after-school classes taught at Mountain View's CSMA, a beneficiary of the Voice's annual Holiday Fund, which provides art and music classes to all ages and most persuasions. (The Voice is a sister paper of the Palo Alto Weekly.)
CSMA has programs in 31 area schools, including all of Mountain View's elementary schools, and several local preschools for low-income families, which would not have arts education if it were not for CSMA. The school on San Antonio Circle was founded in 1968 and is now the region's largest nonprofit provider of music and arts education.
On a recent afternoon, student Juliet Ablaza was putting images from her imagination on paper: a comic about a boy who secretly has a robotic arm.
"I thought about how some people accidentally get paralyzed, so I just wanted to think of a solution," Ablaza said. "It's a robot arm -- I don't know if science could actually do that, but I thought it was cool."
On the other side of the room Claude Ferguson was teaching a group of younger students comic book illustration.
"What I do is a show them a couple of things, mostly techniques for animating the characters, developing the characters and finally, the storytelling," Ferguson said.
A character developed by Ferguson's student Trevor, is "an evil granny and she has an evil army of gnomes," the boy said. "On her lawn she has a sign, it says, 'Private property, violators will be eaten.' I think that gives you an idea of who granny is." The "vampire gnomes" lure in human victims, and riot over who gets to eat.
If the character illustrations are only a few steps above stick figures, Ferguson says that's quite fine for elementary school-aged kids.
"I found that over teaching for several years, when students have a story, they can develop technique as they go," Ferguson said. "I like to hear their stories, different twists and plots, in the end they have a nice little plot they are usually pretty proud of. I'm not a stickler for technique at this point. At this age you want them to draw, draw, draw."
Ferguson also teaches a class where students make instruments from found objects and perform with them. "It's hilarious actually," said CSMA marketing director Sharon Kenney, who recalled "a bagpipe made from a rubber glove."
Ferguson has also performed jazz with the "Parhelion Ensemble" -- several young musicians who learned jazz at CSMA and drew a packed house at Red Rock Coffee for a recent performance.
CSMA director and jazz fan Vicki Scott Grove -- who joined CSMA over the summer -- said its programs reach over 20,000 students a year. Scholarships and financial aid are available for a wide range of art and music classes for all ages.
"We see ourselves as really a gem of a community resource here," Grove said. "We did have a bit of a (financial) loss last year. We are very dependent on individuals and foundation and corporate support," she said. Cuts in support can impact certain scholarships and financial aid, she said.
Currently on display at CSMA is an exhibition of quilts made by members of Mountain View's Day Worker Center, and CSMA is in the middle of a free concert series, which runs until June 26, featuring everything from Harlem jazz to Mozart to sounds completely improvised. The shows are performed in CSMA's Tateuchi Hall.
"When you come to a concert here, you can talk to the artist afterward," Grove said. "We make it very, very accessible."
Info: The Community School of Music and Arts is at 230 San Antonio Circle in Mountain View. Go to arts4all.org for more information.
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