I met with artist and instructor Kwadwo Adae at his Adae Fine Art Academy on Chapel Street during one of the hottest days of the year. The urban asphalt baked in the sun. The air was thick and languorous. Everyone who had dared to venture outside seemed miserable.
The heat rose to Adae’s second-floor walk-up classroom, and I swear I could smell the sands of South Beach. Was it an olfactory mirage? If so, Adae, dressed in a not-pictured-above beachy vintage button-down and cocoa-colored polyester trousers, wasn’t helping.
Not with my mirage problem, anyway, but he was certainly helping his students. Adae sauntered down the aisle of easels holding up their work. Back and forth he swayed, from student to student, to the soundtrack of 50s jazz, Suicide singles and Motown soul.
Even on a sweltering summer day, he is just so cool. Over a glass of ice water (he first offered me a beer; I declined—told you he was cool) in the corner of his classroom, it was easy to notice what else is cool about the Academy, now in its eighth year of operation.
Decorating the space’s white-washed walls, students and visitors will find a few of Adae’s own paintings—vivid, atmospheric works from Kwadrilaterals (an ongoing series that has solidified his reputation in the area)—as well as worn books emphasizing the importance of major art movements in the modern century and tons of little gadgets and gizmos from his travels. Each token, trinket and tear-out inspired Adae enough to think it would also inspire students looking for new ideas to illustrate in their own ways.
Because, at the Adae Fine Art Academy, anything goes. Maybe you’re the next Picasso; maybe you just want to learn how to draw the dimensions of hovercrafts floating in space. Either is fine. There is no shared curriculum. No specific lesson plans. The usual methods of education and guidance are out.
Adae’s personalized attention fills the vacuum, though. In the wake of crushing budget cuts to arts and music programs in neighboring public schools (where some of his own students have never once attended an art class), Adae’s class sizes, which are limited to 10 students, mean that a deeper relationship between instructor and developing artist is possible.
Helping students transform their own artistic eye and skill isn’t just a vocation; it’s a deeply personal mission. “I had a 9-year-old student who once told me that she didn’t have art classes in school,” he says. “It didn’t even occur to me that that was a reality for some of these kids, so when I heard that, my heart just shattered into a million pieces. Immediately, I turned myself into that 9-year-old girl because if you take art out of the equation of my life, I honestly don’t know where I would be in my life. That’s the kind of thing that helps me wake up on a Saturday morning and prepare for my session.”
By offering an eight-week session package for both adults and children at affordable price points (not to mention a free trial class to try out), Adae invites even those who doubt their ability to draw a stick figure (ahem, yours truly) to stop doubting and start doing.
Adae says, “I learn from each student,” whatever his or her talent level. “I need them to work out their problems, their artistic endeavors, because it helps me identify with them. It helps me with my own work to see what they’re struggling with. If they’re struggling, I want to learn how to do it better so I can communicate with them on their level. I’m no good to them if I’m not an actively practicing artist.”
Watching Adae interact with his students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities is inspiring. He lives and breathes the idea that self-expression is important, if not vital, to individual well-being. Free to create and free from the confines of competition and rivalry, there’s a friendly, supportive spirit in the air. Casually chatting with their neighbors, students respect and encourage each other to keep going, to keep working through the challenges of making their art.
“This school has grown like a plant. And now there are some good leaves on it. In time, all things do grow,” Adae says with a reflective, but proud, smile.
Adae Fine Art Academy
817 Chapel Street, Suite 2A, New Haven (map)
(203) 777-7220 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Written and photographed by Courtney McCarroll.