Boca Raton: New director sees Art School as safe haven for creativity to flourish

INSET BELOW: Walter O'Neill

By Lucy Lazarony

    Walter O’Neill can sum up his vision for the Art School of the Boca Museum of Art in four simple words, “community and building community.”

    O’Neill, who took over as director on April 7, sees the Art School as a second home for artists of all ages and all skill levels, where they can leave the daily stresses of life at the door, come inside and create art.

    “It’s a place to come. It’s a second home,” O’Neill said. “It’s about being in a supportive community, whether it’s the teacher or the student sitting next to you.” Too often at home, distractions can impede the creative flow.

    “It’s so much easier to do the dishes and to vacuum than do the art,” O’Neill said. 

    But inside the Art School, art students can leave their cares at the door and focus on their art. 

    And students have many artistic options and disciplines from which to choose.   

    Classes, workshops and lectures are available in ceramics, drawing, jewelry, painting, photography and sculpture. Thirty-five teachers and professional artists teach more than 100 classes per week.

    “We’re a serious cultural institution,” O’Neill said. “We have classes for beginners and experienced artists, six days a week, evenings, daytimes and weekends.” 

    Summer art camp for kids with a strong focus on art history and a multicultural arts curriculum begins June 9. 

    One of O’Neill’s goals is to offer even more evening and weekend classes for working adults and younger, 30-something adult artists.

    “Working adults are creative,” O’Neill said. 

    Leading an art school with close ties to a museum is a natural fit for O’Neill, who began as a student artist taking high school art classes in a local museum in Montclair, N.J.

    “This job attracted me. It perfectly fits my background,” he said. “I started out taking art classes in high school in a local museum. So after the art class you could wander into the museum and see the art … That was really where I began.” 

    The Art School of the Boca Museum of Art, 801 W. Palmetto Park Road, began in June 2001. It also is the original site of the Boca Museum of Art, which moved to its Mizner Park location in January 2001.    

    Prior to coming to the Art School in Boca, O’Neill was director of the Educational Alliance Art School and Gallery in New York City. He has also served as supervisor of school programs at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and educator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif. 

    A practicing artist with a focus on fresco painting, O’Neill has taught fresco painting at The Cloisters in New York and at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, a summer residency program in Maine.

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