Easton Front Porch

In her vision of what makes for a healthy and thriving community, Keri English Giddes has brought arts and culture to the town of Easton via LaLa Picasso Art (The Easton Arts Center) and Music School. When I visited Keri at the Easton Arts Center several years ago, I could tell I was in the presence of a teacher who easily engages her students and forms lasting bonds. Most of all, I found her to be accessible, enthusiastic and extremely caring.

LaLa Picasso was founded by Keri in 2010. In December 2012, with the help of Gary Simone and Tom Hermann, LaLa Picasso partnered with the Easton Park and Recreation Department and opened The Easton Arts Center at 652 Morehouse Road. What started as a visual arts program, quickly evolved into a center that encompassed all of the arts and catered to children and young adults of all levels and ability, including those with special needs. 

With the help of Don Cooper, Eric Donnelly, David Harewood and Ariadna SK, the Easton Arts Center (TEAC) music program was founded in 2014. That’s when LaLa Picasso decided to begin the “at home” music program. With 12 instructors, the music school currently has 80 students and offers piano, voice, bass, guitar and ukulele lessons to students of all levels in the comfort of one’s home. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been challenging for Keri to keep the Easton arts and music program — so well-loved by children and parents — accessible to her students. Above all, she misses in-person teaching and the sense of a shared creative effort among her students, which, according to Keri, is “the most rewarding aspect of the job.” Spring is the time when the Easton Arts Center hosts its annual auction, featuring student artwork, which is sold to help pay for tuition for students in need. 

The current shelter-in-place directive has not discouraged Keri. She has managed to move the center’s music lessons online and continues to come up with innovative ways to keep her studio classes going. For Easter, Keri’s mother, Ellie, her children, Luke and Tate, and her husband, Gregg, all helped Keri create Easter Art Boxes. She made 47 boxes, which included a homemade cloth bunny, six paper mâché eggs, a bag of Open Studio (yarn, buttons, feathers, etc.) an envelope of sequins, tempera paints, a brush and glue.

The Easter Art Boxes were such a success that she is now distributing Birthday Art Boxes, which include six plaster cupcakes to paint, one foam cut-out cupcake, cloth for frosting, yarn to wrap around the bottom of the cupcake, tempera paints and a brush. 

Keri is also offering a five-week Open Studio via Zoom on Mondays, April 20 to May 18, 3 to 3:40 p.m. on Zoom, open to all all ages.The “hundreds and hundreds of masks” community service project will also be linked to Remote Open Studio, which begins Monday, April 20. 

“In addition to the five kits and the bag of Open Studio, your children will receive masks (all with filter pockets) to color uplifting drawings and messages to our local police department, EMS, senior center, convalescent homes and pediatric units,” says Keri. She will drop off  the masks at students’ homes and pick them up for distribution after they’ve been decorated, all while exercising safe social distancing and taking appropriate hygiene precautions. 

Keri says the mask project was inspired by the fact that her students are always excited about making things for others. Their artistic inclinations are often fueled by the idea that through their art, they can make a human connection. In her studio classes, whether in person or online, Keri always sponsors charitable programs through the center, teaching her students the importance of sharing their creations to benefit others, which she feels is the underlying purpose of the arts.

By bringing what she loves best to her students, Keri also brings an extraordinary gift to the Easton community at large, which she has been a member of for 17 years. She has created a space where children and young adults can glean a sense of self-confidence through their imaginations and the creative process; a space where they can dream, invent, and best of all, share the end product with others. 

To purchase a Birthday Art Box or to sign up for the Zoom Open Studio beginning Monday, April  20, text Keri at 2033935597. 

For more general information about TEAC, you can visit The Easton Arts Center FaceBook page or its web page on the Easton Park and Recreation website.

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