Since 2003, Karen Kulzer has worked diligently and passionately to bring art appreciation to the Oswego community. Kulzer is a director and founder of Oswego’s Fox River Academy of Music and Art.
Kulzer said the founders specifically chose their Oswego location.
“This community needed a community presence for art appreciation. There is a lot of work being done in the schools, but at the community level the town could use more focus," Kulzer said "One part of our mission is to improve the community’s appreciation of the arts. We also work to connect people, building relationships through music and art.”
In addition to popular classes such as piano, guitar and voice, Fox River Academy (FRA) brings classes to the community like harp and oboe, Kulzer said.
Kulzer said she also is excited by the expanding string program offered at FRA.
“We’re trying to encourage more string involvement in Oswego. There’s not a lot of opportunity for violin players since the school district currently has no orchestra,” she said.
Kulzer said they offer private lessons to supplement instruments that kids are studying in school, to provide kids extra help. The academy also is trying to expand their art program, especially since there have been cuts in the school systems.
“Teachers are amazing but they don’t always have the resources or the time to expand their programs. In the high schools, it’s amazing what they’re doing. We particularly see the need for junior high age classes in art…Many District 308 art teachers are teaching classes with us and are excited to have the opportunity,” she said.
Popular art classes include oil painting, duct tape art, illustration and comics. In the fall, FRA will offer art classes to special needs students.
Kulzer said they offer workshops where they bring in a professional for one day in an area such as mixed media.
Fine Arts parties are also offered, where a professional teaches a group of 5-10 people on a specific technique.
FRA’s philosophy is to encourage individual development. Classes are small, usually capped at 10-12 students. Students interact with the teacher during every class, Kulzer said.
“There is a strict no bullying environment,” Kulzer explained. “We offer a supportive environment where students learn respect for people’s work. We are a place where people can express themselves and appreciate the artistry. It’s a good support network.”
FRA’s mission includes offering more community art projects and encouraging the community to engage in art appreciation. Kulzer coupled this goal with her passion for environmental issues to create a recycled art project with The Garden Faire.
FRA sought donations of old tires, wheels and leftover paint. Then, they coordinated with the Oswego Park District to offer a booth at the Country Market, where they opened the booth to the community and encouraged all ages to get creative, Kulzer said.
Approximately 40 people participated in this community art project, painting part of a wheel or tire. The art is now displayed on The Garden Faire’s fence and will remain until mid-August, Kulzer said.
“We’re hoping to do more community art projects. The Park District and Village have been very supportive and it’s been fantastic to engage the community,” Kulzer said.
Tricia Mucklow is FRA’s Art Director and a kindergarten art teacher. Mucklow was involved with the tire recycling project.
“Promoting arts in the community is a big focus. Karen is a visionary and always has great ideas. This turned out better than I expected. It looks amazing and is so creative,” Mucklow said.
After 1 ½ years of preparation, Kulzer is excited to offer students the Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory Achievement Program. This standardized program “determines the level of technique each student has achieved and means something to a college…It’s a really big deal,” Kulzer explained.
Kulzer said the students appreciate the program and enjoy having achievement goals and that the program offers students additional opportunities to grow.
“The program encourages students to excel in their own merit. Students are only judged on what they accomplish and not against someone else,” she said.
Last year, FRA students enjoyed 104 performance opportunities, including many charity events.
Art shows had sections for specific students where they provided a commentary on their art, engaging with people at the art show as a professional would, Kulzer explained.
FRA was originally located in the log cabins at the intersection of Route 34 and Route 71. In February 2011, they moved to their current location of 4785 State Route 71.
In 2009, FRA formed a partnership with the Oswego Family YMCA, offering art and music classes in studios at the YMCA and offering discounts to members.
Kulzer has lived in Oswego for eight years. Her husband was born and raised in Oswego. She serves as a Cultural Arts Commissioner for the Village and is active with the Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Consumer Expo.