NEW KENT — For art teacher Alison Pariso, a school shooting was a gut check for her and her family.
In September 2021, a shooting at the Newport News high school where her husband taught left two students injured and left teachers badly shaken. At the same time, Pariso herself was facing a challenging time in her own classroom. So the family decided to move to New Kent County.
Within a few months, Pariso and her husband opened their own art business in Barhamsville, where they now offer art classes for all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. The move ended up being a positive turning point for her family and her path to mental wellness.
“I really wanted to transform art for this age group. I want kids to be able to know that art is for everybody and anywhere. So, that’s pretty much my mission,” said Alison Pariso, who, along with husband Frank, has a combined 10 years of art teaching experience.
At Pariso Art, kids learn the elements of art and design, how to combine technical skills with the use of different mediums, how to solve problems creatively and the history of important artists and their relevance to the student’s own personal expression, Pariso said. Classes are offered at The She Shed, a craft studio on Heath Industrial Drive in Barhamsville.
Pariso’s journey to opening Pariso Art was a long one, taking her all around the country. She grew up in Florida, discovering a love of printmaking — the process of creating pictures or designs through plates or blocks — in middle school. She went on to major in printmaking at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston but soon found that she wasn’t interested in being a fine artist.
“I decided I didn’t want to be an exhibiting artist,” she said. “I did not want to be an artist for myself, and it just wasn’t for me. I think it was the competitiveness of it, and I started worrying about getting a job.”
Post-graduation, Pariso landed several internships in New York City. While working for a fine art gallery, she learned how to become an art handler — packing, unpacking and installing art. At the same time, Pariso also worked at BLICK Art Materials in Boston, where she met her husband.
The two eventually moved to New Jersey, and Pariso took a job at the prestigious auction house Sotheby’s as an art handler. The physical demands caused Pariso injuries, however, which led her to leave her job at Sotheby’s and become an art gallery director.
“I realized that I really liked working for artists rather than exhibiting my own art. I wanted to help other artists, but I was very lost at that time in my life,” she said. “So we ended up opening Google Maps, and we ended up in Williamsburg (near family).”
In 2015, Pariso began working as the office manager and art education coordinator at the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center. A year later, Pariso and her husband welcomed their first child, daughter Eliana. While on maternity leave, the family experienced some financial hardships, prompting Pariso to try her hand at substitute teaching.
She loved it, and it was then she realized she wanted to become a teacher.
Pariso found her stride working with elementary school aged children and substituted for several elementary schools before getting a job as an art teacher at Warwick High School in Newport News, and then at Queens Lake Middle School in York County. Her husband, meanwhile, also taught art at Heritage High School in Newport News.
But by 2021, after going through virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with what she saw as limitations with the public school system, a shooting at her husband’s school was the final straw. Pariso left public school teaching.
For the Parisos, who had met in Boston and lived there at the time of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the shooting brought back bad memories. When Alison Pariso began having panic attacks, she realized she needed to change her life. It ended up being a good thing.
“That’s when I realized I needed to get back on track and focus. I just had this gut feeling that I needed to take a risk and not renew my contract and go ahead and do Pariso Art,” she said.
By then a family of four with son Anthony, the Parisos moved to New Kent County in January 2022. Pariso Art was born a few months later.
“I felt like I wanted to reach kids in a different way. It was just so hard to see the things that happened in public schools and not being able to do anything about it,” Pariso said.
It’s important to her, she said, that kids feel free to have a creative voice. She hopes to one day open a kid-only art gallery space.
“I want there to be a space just for kids to display their artwork, free from judgement,” she said. “There’s nothing like it in the area.”
Pariso Art offers classes for elementary, middle and high school ages, along with homeschool private lessons and classes and “toddler and me” classes. Class costs range from $35-$50 per session. The Parisos also occasionally hold adult paint classes both at The She Shed and other businesses, including at Carrot Tree Kitchens in Williamsburg.
Through the classes, Pariso said she strives to not only teach technique and tips, but also self-confidence.
“I always tell my students that there’s no good or bad in art. This is their own expression,” she said. “I am always blown away by their imagination and creativity, and they come up with things I never would have. They’re amazing.”
A Paint & Sip will be held on Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. at The She Shed, and the subject will be sunflowers in acrylic paint. The cost is $35 a person, and guests bring their own drinks and food.
Pariso Art is partnering with Steve Prince, director of engagement and distinguished artist in residence at William & Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art to host a youth workshop on how to create self-portrait busts on March 28, 29 and 30. The workshop will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Stryker Center in Williamsburg.
Amy Jo Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org