Have you ever taken a ceramics class? If you were lucky, maybe your high school art class or summer camp let you play around with hand building. But for most of us, we’ve either never had the chance or think of ceramics as “that thing I tried once upon a time”. For Amanda Gardner, ceramics has been a hobby since she was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago.
Fast forward to adulthood and Amanda joined the Coast Guard. She was stationed in San Diego in 2007 and spent 4 years in the service as an electrician. After leaving the Coast Guard, she found herself picking up a variety of different jobs, constantly learning new skills.
Several years ago, Amanda applied for a ceramics director position at the City Heights Recreation Center. By this time, Amanda hadn’t done ceramics in years and though she didn’t get the job, just talking about the job possibility inspired her to take the opportunity to pursue ceramics more seriously. Amanda found and fell in love with the UCSD Craft Center, with its live trees growing in the middle of the building, and occasional raccoon visitors. However, the University didn’t see the value in keeping the center open because the building was in disrepair and they could no longer justify using student fees to maintain a building and program that catered more toward the general population. Despite many attempts to save the craft center, the University ultimately decided to shut it down, and the San Diego ceramics community lost its home.
As a kid, Amanda had always noticed cute storefronts and signs. She imagined having a small business of her own, but didn’t know what she would sell. She started thinking of how she might be able to fill a little bit of the void created by the closure of the craft center by creating a ceramics teaching studio. She started by offering workshops at the North Park Arts Festival and the Adams Avenue Street Fair and once she saw how much traction she was getting, she began laying the groundwork for the storefront.
The idea for Ceramic Heights started to emerge….
Amanda started to look around for a space to launch her business idea and decided that she would love to be on El Cajon Boulevard. As a resident of University Heights, she is a frequent visitor of the Boulevard and City Heights. She has always been interested in the way that you can watch the Blvd change character as you travel across its great length, and wondered many times about why there is so much empty space. She started to dream about filling one of those vacancies. Finally she found a spot near the intersection of 41st Street and was especially enticed by the fact that it was a former salon which already had all the pipes in place that she would need to connect the sink and kiln. Once she moved in, she was delighted to discover that all her neighbors on the Blvd were also small local business owners like herself.
Amanda got to work quickly getting the space ready to open. As she thought about her own struggles with the notion that art is only art when someone says its art, she sought out to create a space where everyone’s creative expression, both novices and experts, would be valued.
My partner and I recently participated in the Valentine’s Day couples class modeled after the ceramics scene in the movie “Ghost”. Neither one of us had ever used a pottery wheel, but Ceramic Heights provided a non-judgmental and laid back environment where diverse groups of people could draw inspiration from each other and have fun. More than anything, Amanda wants community members to see Ceramic Heights as a comfortable outlet for stress-relief and creativity. And she has done just that!
Now Ceramic Heights is part of the Boulevard and City Heights family. The space features small and affordable ceramics classes for children and adults. You can also find her teaching ceramics at the City Heights Farmers Market and she is hoping to continue building relationships with local schools to ensure that ceramics classes are affordable to neighborhood children. Amanda is constantly coming up with new ideas and fun events for the space. She has also talked about offering other types of art classes in the future, like life drawing. We are thrilled to welcome Ceramic Heights to the neighborhood and look forward to all the creativity that it will unleash in City Heights!