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Holiday Fund: Art is fundamental

Community School of Music and Arts expands access to the arts

With its many classes and workshops in new media, the Community School of Music and Arts is a place where the boundaries of expression are constantly pushed in innovative directions. But as much as the Mountain View-based organization is always looking forward, officials at CSMA say they know the importance of remembering the past.

In that spirit, the CSMA is offering a week-long course for adults and teenagers in shooting and developing photographs taken on black and white film. The Black & White Photography Workshop is scheduled to run from Dec. 3-7 at the school's main campus at Finn Center.

In addition to learning techniques for taking better photographs, students will learn how to develop their own film and even to manipulate photos in a darkroom setting -- adjusting their images without the aid of Adobe Photoshop.

Instructor Paul Cartier works predominantly with digital cameras these days, and said he believes that digital cameras are superior to film in many ways. And yet he still wanted to teach the class, because there is a lot photography students miss out on if they don't study the history of the medium, he said.

There is something powerful about dipping the photo paper into the solution and watching a picture emerge from the void, he said.

"There's a kind of meditative aspect to it for me," Cartier said, reflecting on working in a darkroom. "There is a magic there that is entirely different from any kind of magic you would get from digital."

Cartier said he believes that working with film and in the darkroom has the potential to make someone a better photographer. Younger people who have never worked with film before have had the miracle of photography "handed all to them on a plate," he said. To them, the camera is simply a "black box."

Learning the basics of shooting and developing film, students will learn the origin of many terms they may have heard before, but never understood. What is now referred to as ISO, for example, was once called film speed. Younger digital photographers may know that if they use a higher ISO, they will be able to capture images better in low-light environments, but what they may not know is that the principle behind ISO was originally that different speeds of film were more or less sensitive to light. The higher the film speed, the faster the film would react to light, thus less light was needed to capture an image.

By Cartier's logic, even if someone only shoots and develops one roll of film, "they are going to be better off, because then they are going to have a much clearer understanding of what is going on inside the camera, I think."

It's because of classes like the Black & White Photography Workshop, along with the arts education work that the organization conducts in the community, that the CSMA has been chosen once again as one of the beneficiaries of this year's Holiday Fund.

Donations made by readers and local foundations to the Mountain View Voice's Holiday Fund help CSMA and six other local organizations that are making a difference in Mountain View.

In addition to the many workshops and classes held at its main campus at the Finn Center, CSMA is active in fostering art appreciation in the community. CSMA provides performance, visual art and music education at schools in Mountain View and the greater Bay Area, with teachers who lead art and music classes embedded within the public schools' regular curriculum. Without them, the Mountain View Whisman School District's art curriculum would be greatly diminished.

CSMA also provides scholarships for local students who have demonstrated an ability and interest in the arts. These scholarships range from free seasonal camp sessions to more extensive merit scholarships for those with great talent in music, performance or the visual arts.

CSMA offers private lessons and group classes for children and adults, ranging from art classes, which cover painting, ceramics and fashion, to musical instrument lessons. The school also puts on live performances, concerts and hosts art shows -- many of them free or low-cost.

All of this is done in the interest of upholding the school's motto "Arts for all." CSMA's guiding principle is that the arts should not be something limited only to those who can afford to take expensive courses or buy tickets to museums.

"We want people to think of music and art as just natural extensions of their daily life," according to Mary Holmes, director of the CSMA's music school. "The arts are fundamental, not ornamental."

For more information about the Mountain View Voice Holiday Fund, or to make a contribution, go to siliconvalleycf.org/mvv-holiday-fund.

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