- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 26, 2004

Creationists: Award-winning school exists for the art of creating

When the ambassador of the Czech Republic to Georgia visited February 16 he told students at the Yerevan Ajapaniak District Charity Children's Art School :

“I've never been in Armenia , but thanks to your paintings I got to know it and had a great desire to see it.”

Intense love of art.

Ambassador Irzhi Negvasil came to Yerevan to personally present awards for the 31 st International Exhibition Festival of Fine Arts, which took place last year in the Czech town of Lidice .

Representatives of 154 countries took part in the exhibition and it included 200 pieces of work from Armenia . The Armenian entries took 10 awards, nine of which were given to the pupils of Vardan Ghumashyan, who teaches at the Ajapniak Charity Children's Art School and the Anania Shirakatsi Educational Complex.

It was not until the Czech ambassador asked to see the pupils that the Ministry of Culture of Armenia even knew the school existed. It is easy to overlook, if to be known at all.

Unknown, ignored or disregarded, it is a school in its spiritual sense only. The painting school is in a run-down section of the Ajapniak community. In dark, cold basement rooms resembling a warehouse, colourful gardens grow from childhood imagination. The work may be special, but the place is nothing of beauty.

Director Ghumashyan

“We forget about financial problems because if we think about them we won't be able to create,” says Ghumashyan. And Ghumashyan says he has forgotten about trying to get financial backing to find a more suitable facility.

“A few years ago I understood one simple thing, that it is not worth wasting your time explaining to officials the problem of art's importance, there is no sense. I forgot everything and together with children I devoted myself to that wonderful process of work,” says Ghumashyan.

The Charity School is the only one in Yerevan where children learn for free. It was founded in 1991. During cold and dark days the school became a spiritual educational center for the entire generation. In the school children forgot about everyday problems and were living and breathing by clear art.

During Soviet times the space was a district youth club. It closed after independence, leaving area children with no place to go.

Ghumashyan a Moscow-trained painter, kept teaching, even though the club had been closed.

“I had no status but I continued to work despite I knew that the club didn't exist anymore and I would not get a salary,” says Ghumashyan.

Years had passed and in 1991 Ghumashyan registered the club as a non governmental organization and gave it its new name. He still doesn't get a salary, but demands that the students repay him with their willingness to learn.

“When you have some material expectations, you always have a fear that it won't be there one day. So if you're not expecting anything, you get free from that fear,” Ghumashyan says. “We work like a family. When a father teaches his child something he never thinks that a child has to pay in return.”

Easels were made from a stage

The school has a clear and purposeful task – to aim the child's rich inner world towards the sphere of arts. Working individually with students of the school whose age varies from 5 to 14, Ghumashyan taches not only painting but also history of art and religion.

“We don't have any exams or special admittance to enter the school. Everyone can create and the role of teacher is not in teaching but in revealing,” the teacher says.

The axis of his teaching method is freedom, so that there's no pressure on a child's imagination or individuality.

The students and the teacher are in a constant search to obtain paints and paper and pencils but:

“Even if we don't have anything, it's not a problem, we draw with charcoal, just to draw,” says Ghumashyan optimistically smiling.

Ghumashyan tells with pride how they managed to have easels.

“It was impossible to buy them and we had no wood to make any. However, in one of the rooms we inherited from the club there was a wooden stage which we weren't using. We dismantled the stage and made 15 easels and drawing boards from it.”

The award winners may be unknown and poorly provided for, but it hardly seems to matter.

“When greedy people make attempts to take the territory of our school, I simply tell them if they close the school we'll paint in the street,” Ghumashyan says. “Nothing and no one can deprive us of the pleasure of creating.”

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