Art House arising on Helena College campus | Local

Janice K. Johnson


Okay, so it might take a year or so.

But Helena College is renovating a house on its Roberts Street campus to be an art space – with multiple art classrooms, a gallery, a gathering space, a ceramics lab, studio space and more.

Right now, it just has very rough schematics by Slate Architecture and no ballpark figure of how much it will cost to become a reality.

The Art Department has come a long way since Seth Roby first walked in the door in 2016 as an adjunct instructor to teach Intro to Drawing.

That year, he had 18 students.

A year later, he added Painting I and 2D Foundations.

In 2019, he came on as a full-time instructor.

Now, there’s some 90 students taking art each semester.

There’s a flurry of other art activity on campus, as well.

This summer, Helena artist Doug Turman is teaching a special topics watercolor class on campus.

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In spring, ceramic artist and Holter Museum of Art Executive Director Chris Riccardo taught a ceramics class.

A few steps down the hall from the Art Room a classroom is being transformed into a new media arts classroom – yet another exciting addition to the Art Department.

Two folks, both ex-Peace Corps volunteers who are well practiced and versed in how to build something out of close-to-nothing, are behind the scenes making all these pieces fall into place.

One is obviously Roby, but the other is Robyn L. Kiesling, executive director of General Education and Transfer, who first sought Roby out and hired him.

“I think about how lucky we are,” said Kiesling of hiring Roby, who has guided the growth of the department.

They tested out classes, and most of them caught on.

“Our idea wasn’t so far-fetched because it’s happened very quickly,” Roby said. “We’ve continued to add to make a very strong foundational program for our students.”







Seth Roby

Seth Roby talks about Helena College’s art department recently.




Students get a lot of the courses they need for their first two years of a bachelor’s degree and can then transfer to the University of Montana or Montana State University for a four-year degree.

They’re also working with UM-Western in Dillon, so students can transfer into a K-12 arts education program.

Plus, Helena College added a lot of professional development training for those students who want to go directly into working for an art business or starting their own business, rather than pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

“My students are very well connected with the community,” Roby added. He invites in numerous local artists and art business owners to talk to his students.

“We want all our students to be very aware of what their end goal is, which is career,” said Kiesling. “Seth has done a very good job of incorporating that into the art program here.”

They’ve been very strategic in how they grow.

“We want to grow in a sustainable way. We don’t want to grow too quickly,” said Kiesling, but added “we’re growing faster than we anticipated.”







Robyn L. Kiesling,

Robyn L. Kiesling, executive director of general education and transfer, talks about Helena College’s art courses recently.




Roby didn’t expect to add media arts as a class for a few more years, but COVID changed that and drove a lot of interest in media arts.

The college will offer two different media arts classes each semester.

“We’re not here to offer everything,” he said. “We’re not a four-year college.”

Helena College is now offering two levels of drawing, painting, a 2-D foundation class, a 3-D design/sculpture class, two levels of art history, an online Arts 101 class and a first semester seminar class that brings in community professionals and helps students build their resumes and then a final semester Capstone Seminar, focusing on their portfolios and an exhibit of their work.

There are also the special topics classes with such guest artists as Turman and Riccardo.

The new Media Arts 101 Class will give an overview of digital photography, film, animation, blogging and website design.

Other Media Arts classes will cover graphics design, Adobe Creative Design Suite and website design.







Workers from Allegra Print hang a vinyl i

Workers from Allegra Print hang a vinyl in the new media arts room at Helena College on Tuesday.




Up until now, all art classes were offered out of the sole Art Room.

So, the addition of a media arts classroom and the Art House will give the program some crucial room to breathe and grow.

Kiesling credits Roby for the program’s amazing growth in a few short years, pointing particularly to his strong community and art connections in Helena.

“Seth is offering really great arts education here at Helena College, and it’s a really big deal for our students,” said Kiesling. “It allows students to start here and transfer almost anywhere.”

And for those who don’t want to get a four-year degree, it’s offering a door opening to a good job.

One student who’s been thrilled with the growth of the arts program is Rachel Twoteeth-Pichardo.

Her ledger artwork, “Grandmother Moon,” took first place at this year’s Helena College Art Showcase.







Ledger art

This art piece by Rachel Twoteeth-Pichardo was created using colored pencils and ink on ledger paper from the store her grandmother owned.




“I’ve been an on-again-off-again student. My first year was 2013-2014,” she said. “It’s incredible what Helena College (is doing).“

She’s now enrolled as a student at the University of Montana working on a bachelor’s degree in art, but is able to live in Helena, take UM courses online and also some in-person art classes at Helena College.

She particularly liked Roby’s 2022 first Capstone Seminar Class. “It prepares you to step into the art community,” she said. ”You get your portfolio ready.”

She also took her first ceramics class with Chris Riccardo.

“The first year I went to Helena College there were just two art classes. Now Seth has so many different courses. Honestly, it’s amazing. I’m really happy and proud of him. He’s made such a big impact for this community.”

She’s thrilled about the new Art House in progress.

Although she’s feeling her way about what she wants to do with her degree, she knows “I definitely want to be independent. I am Native American and that’s where a lot of my art goes – towards my culture. I draw and sew as well and do dancing.” She’s finding what she’s most passionate about.

“Right now, it’s my ledger art. I use colored pencils and ink,” and ledger paper from the store her grandmother owned.

She said she’s very sentimental toward the arts “and especially Seth as my instructor. He’s really pushed me and motivated me to become a better artist and to step into that arena. I’ve always had a lot of doubts. He did everything he could to make the path clearer. He’s inspiring. I really hope more people get into art. It’s an unlimited type of career.

“This is just my shout-out to Seth for being amazing.”



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