Words by Marléna Ahearn
Photos by Julia Merrell
“Nothing is precious” are the words that have stuck with Amy Bonner Oliveri throughout her career.
When something becomes so precious—the feeling that it has to be perfect— is when it gets too hard to really engage in a way that’s positive, muses Amy. She hopes to change that approach to self-expression with her classes.
“As an artist, or a writer, or any kind of creative person you can get really stuck in ‘this isn’t good enough.’ When I heard [my teacher] say ‘nothing is precious,’ I realized that I can just make stuff. It doesn’t have to be good enough, it can just be something I made,” says Amy.
Today, Amy is a beloved art teacher at Allendale Columbia School. After growing up in Rochester and attending RIT, Amy worked in Philadelphia, PA as a graphic designer. Initially, she wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, but realized the path of getting an agent and selling herself and her work didn’t feel genuine. After starting a career in graphic design, she came home to Rochester to get her Masters in Art Education at RIT and jumped back into her earliest passion: teaching.
At fourteen, after years of dance training, Amy realized she could use her skills to teach instead of dedicating all of her hours into becoming a ballerina. She learned tap beside the same kids she taught ballet to and discovered her calling for teaching. A self-described helper and someone who deeply cares for people, having a hand in creating 'aha!' moments for her students made her fall in love with teaching.
“I just loved working with kids, with all people really. That moment when somebody gets something is so cool. When you see someone understand something because of the way you explained it or shared it is the best feeling.”
She has learned, though, that her venture into teaching adults has been different than teaching kids. They can be a little more afraid.
“People often jump the idea that being a good artist is making photo-realistic representational paintings of humans or objects and if they can’t make that, they automatically discount themselves as not a good artist,” says Amy.
Through creating a learning environment for people to make mistakes (and have the freedom to start over), Amy hopes to help people reacquaint themselves with their creative energy. She’s discovered that people don’t always make it a priority to have a therapeutic moment and lose themselves in an experience. So much of our lives are taking in and consumption, and for Amy painting is a way to exhale and put something out into the world. With her classes she hope to offer that moment, where they can stop consuming and see where painting can take them.
“I hope that people walk away with a little bit more confidence. I don’t care if they never touch paint again. But just a little bit of confidence in their ability to try something new, to persevere, to feel like they’re capable.”