California Arts Academy – The Pulse of Performing Arts in Fresno

Feb 1, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Strolling The Town, Theatre, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

Tom Sims covers the Tower District, Downtown Fresno, and Old Town Clovis in his monthly column Strolling the Town.
We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling!

Are the performing arts alive and well in Fresno?

They are alive and thriving and the next generation is catching the fire and setting the world ablaze with brilliance.
From the age of five and upwards, young people and families can learn to dance in any style from ballet to tap, jazz, ballroom, Irish, or hip hop and more. They can explore the possibilities of visual art, gymnastics, or cheering. They can take vocal and instrumental music lessons, study acting, or combine any of these skill sets in the context of the performing arts at California Arts Academy.

Students at the Academy study with what they describe as “world-class teachers – right here in Fresno!” Study privately or in a group setting. Study and prepare for presentations at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Fresno for other dance, musical, and theatrical venues.

Sharon Bellina is the key face of the Academy for letting the community know what is happening. When I asked her what she wanted us to know, she said, “”We take pride in providing a fun, safe, and educational outlet for kids and adults of all ages who are interested in the arts. We believe that students benefit most from performance, not competition. CAA offers a plethora of opportunities for advanced students who might want to pursue a career in the arts. Our Severance Ballet Conservatory provides pre-professional training for advanced ballet dancers.

Dance Class

“Our sister company, Artists’ Repertory Theater, presents a full season of exciting plays and musical productions this year. And our art students regularly display their work at the gallery at the Severance building. Our students gain the confidence, training, appreciation for the arts, and skills necessary to succeed in any field, no matter what their goals are. Our instructors are world-class, and our programs are fun and engaging.”

You can thank Director Julie Ann Keller, who owns the studio with her husband, attorney Chris Campbell. Julie calls this labor of love the possibility of “a lifetime of creativity for you and your children!”

Julie Ann Keller

Julie has a long and varied list of credentials and a busy schedule. She would refer you to her Facebook page rather than brag about them.

Her Favorite Quotations on Facebook are:
• “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
• “Never eat at a restaurant with ‘pit’ in the name.” – her own words
• “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.” ~Thornton Wilder

Daniel Chavez Jr. is director of the musical theatre department and is also the artistic director of Artists Repertory Theatre. His big claim to fame among the popular culturists of Fresno might actually be the Rocky Horror Show.

He recently announced open try-outs for a production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver with this statement, “Oliver! Oliver! Never before has a boy asked for more!” The production is set for April 25 – May 11 at the Severance location of the center at 1401 N. Wishon in Fresno. (California Arts Academy – Severance Theater 1401 N. Wishon Ave., at Floradora, Fresno, CA 93728)

One of the shining lights and rising stars of the Academy is Sarah Waxman. Sarah says of her experience, “I have been a student at Cal Arts since I was four.”

She started working and assisting when she was 15 and a half and began teaching at 18.

“I’ve spent most of my life there… The academy is my family. I’ve grown up there. I’ve had every theatrical first there. I’ve worked with, performed with, and learned from my best friends, built a support system that has been encouraging and loving and really lit the fuse for my love of the arts. The studio is the reason I want to pursue the arts.”

Sarah, a local performer and instructor is getting ready for a “big move to New York.” She says she is going mostly on faith. Her mentor, Daniel Chavez Jr. has, she says, “really taken me under his wing and help me hone my skillset … It’s pretty simple, I just want to make a living doing what I love so that I never have to work.”

Chavez has been with California Arts Academy for eight years now. He graduated from California State University, Chico with a degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance. Spending his own time in New York, he delved into various expressions of his art and helped develop a music theatre program for schools called “The Broadway Junior Collection™.” A noted local performer and director, his presence brings credibility to the Academy’s claims.

Recent Show - Hooray for Hollywood

Local folk music icon, with a long list of genre proficiencies, Steve Ono is another one of many instructors who validate the heartbeat of art in Fresno. He teaches guitar at Cal Arts. Ono, a noted performer and archivist, is also President of the Fresno Folklore Society.

Among its reasons for boasting, Cal Arts is home to the Severance Ballet Conservatory. Severance Dance Studio is located in the Tower District at 1401 N. Wishon, at Floradora in a renovated 1922 building. It has 3,450 square feet of space, a maple floor, and chandeliered ceilings. The Severance itself has existed as a conservatory for over 50 years.

Carla Stallings-Lippert is director of Severance. Her credits include New York’s School of American Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet and work with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolph Nureyev. Her credits include, “Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the title roles in Giselle and La Sylphide, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. She is scheduled for the summer intensive faculty for the American Ballet Theatre in 2014. She is the mother of emerging ballet star Carolyn Lippert who is following in her mother’s footsteps. Her notable students include Pauline Obler of Stanford’s Cardinal Ballet Company.

California Arts Academy instructors come from impressive places and produce impressive students who go on to do impressive work in the performing arts world. The performing arts are alive and well in their work and emerging reputations.

Down to the administrative staff, the program is well run and professional. Shamara Elkins was my initial contact and is Operations Director. Like everyone associated with the Academy, she oozes with enthusiasm when she speaks of her art and work home. She was ready to point the way to all the right people and provide just the right amount of information for Cal Arts.

Central California Parent Magazine voted California Arts Academy Family Favorite in the following categories for 2013: — Children’s Art Classes — Children’s Dance Classes — Children’s Music Classes — Children’s Live Theater.

Endorsements come from the community such as from local food activist and crocheting advocate/instructor, Rachel Carpenter, “I’ve been to a couple of performances at the California Arts Academy. It’s a lot of fun for groups and a great way to meet other people who enjoy the type of arts you do.”

The compliments expand to embrace the heart of the owners for the community. “Our church has been meeting there about 10 years. My family has used the studio for a variety of classes. I think Chris and Julie Ann are community minded, have a passion for teaching youth and are just plain good people.” – – Pastor Bryan Lee Martin.

Doctor Dolittle Jr. is a most recent production of the Academy’s performance wing. It made its appearance January 10-19, 2014 at the Cal Arts Blackstone Theater.

It is actually difficult to keep up with the work product of this local and relatively young institution. The health of the local performing arts owes a debt of gratitude to them for their steady crop of young artists who are appearing with each new season. California Arts Academy is one of the leading training and nurturing centers for arts education and performance in Fresno.

It is a great place to start and some folks will continue on for generations.

California Arts Academy – Severance Theater, 1401 N. Wishon Ave., at Floradora, Fresno, CA 93728
California Arts Academy – Blackstone Theater, 4750 N. Blackstone Ave., Fresno, CA 93726
Classes and studios are at both locations!
Hours Mon – Thu: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Fri: 8:30 am – 6:30 p.m.
Sat: 8:30 am – 4:30 p.m.
Today 8:30 am – 9:30 p.m.
Phone (559) 222-6539
Email julieann@calartsacademy[dot]com
On Facebook:

Bring-A-Friend Week/Bonus Class Week: ONE WEEK ONLY!
During this week, registered students may invite a guest to take a FREE CLASS at California Arts Academy. Members of the community are also eligible for free classes. Registered students may also try new classes – FOR FREE! It’s the perfect opportunity to take a class you’ve been curious about, and to get to know some of our new instructors.
February 3-8, 2014.

You can find more of Tom’s Strolling The Town column here. Keep up with Tom’s writing and “strolling” by following him on Twitter @tomsims

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.



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