DARIEN — Having danced since she was 4, visual arts was not the original focus of Emily Altman, Darien Arts Center’s new visual arts director.

“I fell in love with visual arts in high school,” Altman said.

Altman, a 34-year-old Ridgefield resident, manages the visual arts program and oversees eight classes and a staff of teachers.

“My goal in this job is to get a feel for the community and see what they’re getting in schools and try to offer things that compliment that,” she said. “It’s going to take time to feel that out.”

As a senior at Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y., she took an AP Art History class that began her passion for visual arts.

“It was a survey of art history,” she said. “You started with cave drawings and cave artwork. Then you went all the way up to contemporary art.”

Altman said she always was partial to classical art like Greek and Roman art. Growing up half-Greek, her father would take her to Greece and she found it exciting to learn about the art.

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Visit www.darienarts.org to register and learn more about programs at the Darien Arts Center.

The Italian Renaissance was also a major influence.

“I fell in love with the beauty of those paintings, the precision of the figures and the architecture,” she said.

Altman would continue to practice dance throughout college but chose to major in Art History. She said she decided to not become a professional dancer to focus on a more stable career.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a professional dancer,” she said. “So I thought OK how do I have a career in the arts, but not in dance.”

After college, she worked as an assistant to the director of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. The position gave her experience in working with paintings, sculptures and the film department. After four years there she worked at Christie’s Auction house as the exhibition manager.

“Although my concentration in college was the renaissance there isn’t renaissance at MOMA,” she said. “I was able to learn and be exposed to all these different arts.”

While at Christie’s Auction house she got her masters in visual art administration from New York University. She said she felt lucky that her career gave her the ability to work with art from modern to classical.

“It was a nice compliment because I was sort of executing what I was getting in school on the job,” she said.

She said the Darien Arts Center was a good place for her because of the various art forms it offered.

“This combines my art experience from the city, but then I also get to be exposed to the education part and feel that I’m giving back to the community,” Altman said.

She said there is competition for the arts between kids playing other sports like field hockey, soccer and lacrosse. Also, it could be hard to get kids to come into another classroom after school.

“The arts offer so much and are so important,” she said. “ I’m looking forward to finding out how we can serve the community better.”

Starting Sept. 26 there will be an elementary art studio available for kids ages 6 to 7. There will also be a drawing/painting class starting Sept. 26 for kids ages 10-15. A cartooning class for kids ages 7-12 starts Monday.

Altman said the arts is important because it can offer a unique way of thinking and looking at the world.

“When you’re learning about art you’re learning to see what’s around you in a different way,” Altman said.

She said another goal of hers is to find a way to exhibit students’ artwork. Though there is no gallery right now, they are contemplating maybe having a hanging space.

“That’s a big deal for artists and students,” she said. “You work all semester. You’d love to have a wonderful place to hang the work and show it. That’s part of being an artist.”

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