Since 1999, The Oxbow School, in Napa Valley, has been giving young people from around the country an opportunity to develop their artistic skills in advanced programs that go beyond those offered in high schools. In the episode “The Young and the Restless,” Spark follows the progress of a group of students from their arrival on campus to graduation day.
Ann Hatch, who also founded San Francisco’s residence gallery Capp Street Project, conceived The Oxbow School as a way for high school students to study art in a professional environment, interacting with living artists and surrounded by other students interested in making art. Oxbow’s program mirrors those of college undergraduate and graduate programs, creating a close-knit community of artists who work together and exchange ideas about art. Students get to participate in critique sessions in which they present their work in front of teachers and peers, who respond with questions, constructive criticism and suggestions.
Oxbow offers small programs, with only 48 students and eight faculty members attending each semester. The result is an intimate environment, in which students interact on a daily basis, living in residence together, taking meals together and exploring the Bay Area arts scene together. As a way of expanding the classroom outside the school’s walls, students are taken on field trips to art institutions and art colleges in the region, as well as to the studios of working artists to get a glimpse into the workings of the contemporary art scene.
At the end of the semester, students present a final project, the culmination of the skills and knowledge that they have gained over the preceding months. Parents come to visit from all over the country and are often surprised by the high level of work produced by their children. For many students, the Oxbow program has been a transformative experience, providing them with new ways of thinking about their work and an in-depth understanding of the art world. While some may go on to become working artists, many others have found that the experience has made them more aware of other creative outlets they could pursue professionally, such as music, video production and fashion.