Fine Arts Academy premieres in documentary

Examples of activities available during a recent educational fundraiser at the Fine Arts Academy (Photos submitted)

One of school's founding teachers, Pietsch puts together a video

ATASCADERO — Parents, students, teachers and community supporters of the Fine Arts Academy of Atascadero will have a couple of reasons to celebrate heading into the holiday break.

Firstly, said Parent Student Teacher Association (PTSA) President Roni DeCoster the school’s major fundraiser for the year exceeded their $15,000 goal with a final tally of $16,750. Gathered in a pledge-based format which brings in special classes for an afternoon the funds go to classroom supplies, field trips, and other programs for the students.

Specialty projects can get a boost from the PTSA too, as a former dance instructor and one of the founding teachers at the school, Alan Pietsch explains.

After over a year of outreach, interviews, and digital video editing, he’s ready to announce a premiere date for his documentary video, “The Atascadero Fine Arts Academy – A Jewel of a School,” at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 at the Galaxy Theatre in downtown Atascadero. Admission will be free but, he adds, donations will be gratefully accepted.

Since retirement, Pietsch said he still felt the need to help the school in his own way, and provide some continuity of history for new administrators and teachers, to give them an idea of what was envisioned at the start nearly 20 years ago.

Or as he bullet points in a note to Academy parents: to preserve the history of the school — how it started, the origin of the idea, the early years; to celebrate its success over the years and the reasons for its success; and to promote the school as a model for other districts around the state and country.
Before setting the premiere date, Pietsch was hard at work with Grover Beach-based Arclight Media on editing all his interviews and videos from the archives. While an emerging technology, not all photos and videos from the early 2000s are digitized.

Pietsch paid for the professional help out of pocket but he estimated $2,500 received from contributors on Go Fund Me online and was offered $1,500 from the PTSA. That was up from their original investment of $500, DeCoster added.

The school needs a little framing for outsiders to understand what they've been able to accomplish both DeCoster and Pietsch said.

The only school of its kind in the Atascadero Unified School District, the public school serves students between fourth and eighth grades with morning classes in all the usual curriculum and afternoon courses in the arts.

“Such an incredibly unique school, the type you don't find in small towns normally,” Pietsch said. “Atascadero is a great place but it's not a metropolis like San Francisco.”

In the early days, he added there was some political in-fighting which strained relationships between the district and teachers who volunteered to do a passion project which amounted to a lot more work for the same salaries.

The PTSA now enjoys a good bond with the District, DeCoster said, but they still need to do more fundraising than other schools because of the extra cost for supplies which don't come standard. Watercolors and guitar strings, for example, aren’t free.

The Oct. 26, Art-A-Thon fundraising event was an extra educational opportunity for kids to choose from 17 activities including martial arts, lyrical dance, printmaking, “liquid ink exploration,” watercolor pumpkins, floral hair crowns, solar lights, pet portraits, macrame, and songwriting.

Local business owners who volunteered their time included: S6 Martial Arts, The Artery, Sew Fun, Heartwork City Studios, Best News Guest House, and local recording artist Jade Jackson.

In his film Pietsch talks to former students who will remember those events well, some of them even making careers out of the skills first taught to them at the Academy.

“The [Atascadero High School] has very strong programs as well and a lot of our kids are the leaders at that level,” he adds.

More than a few have kept in touch after coming home from college as well.

A short teaser for the documentary is available on YouTube online at

With a final budget in the neighborhood of $10,000 and totaling 45 minutes long, he thinks it was a good value but mainly, Pietsch added, “a real labor of love.”


Examples of activities available during a recent educational fundraiser at the Fine Arts Academy (Photos submitted)

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