Music News

Alex Botwin and Berk Visual team up with CU Program Council to launch Elm & Oak Academy

Elm and Oak, the boutique clothing/art shop and music imprint that has absolutely blown up since opening its doors just off the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado in 2009, has started what may be the best thing to happen to the University of Colorado since being named the 'Top Party School' in 2011 by Playboy. The new Elm and Oak Academy, co-produced with CU's Program Council, will teach students and anyone interested in participating how to produce art in the modern day.

Elm and Oak founders Berk Visual (aka Wallace Gibbs III) and Alex Botwin (aka Alex B of Paper Diamond) are no strangers to the arts. Berk, who started Elm and Oak in 2005 in Virginia with some start-up cash and some screen printing equipment, relocated to Boulder in 2009 to pursue the company with Botwin. Together, the pair has a mindset that art is meant to be shared, especially by the people who are doing it professionally, and this mindset is what lead Botwin and Berk to engage in discussion with CU Program Council about Elm and Oak Academy in the first place.

A perpetually progressive department, the Program Council, which has been producing events for students in recent years such as Welcomefest and Altitude Festival that could rival even the most profitable events around Colorado, was receptive to the idea of offering tips from the pros, those who not only know how to do it best, but who are indeed doing it the best right now.

The Academy, which is free to students at the University of Colorado and open to those outside of the institution for a minimal fee, is designed to teach people how to turn a hobby or passion into a lifestyle and living. There will be two to three lecture sessions each semester, and each course is designed to teach something different, depending on your interests, whether your passion is the visual arts, music, mastering, or you simply enjoy learning the creative process. The first session took place earlier this week and featured Botwin and Big Gigantic's Dominic Lalli.

"We had some high school kids sign up," notes a surprised Berk, "and this one girl came in and said 'I want to be a part of this, but my dad wants to talk to you.' Next thing I know, he's talking about how cool this sounds and signs his daughter up. How cool is that?"

"The Elm and Oak Academy is made to inspire people to do whatever it is that drives them to be a better person," adds Botwin, explaining what kinds of artists he wants to attract, "whether it's art, music, video or photography." According to Botwin, his network of professionals have already been very enthusiastic to come speak and teach, but he admits, "Some people don't want to share their secrets," adding, however, that "if it's dope and will shine, it will happen anyways, and I rather help that than stifle it."

Berk, who flips records locally as Raw Russ, first discovered his affinity for the creative process when he was still in college, which is perhaps why Elm and Oak Academy is particularly significant to him. "I just knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to art," says Berk, "and that was a very realistic decision."

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Britt Chester is a writer and video producer living in Denver, Colorado. He's covered breaking news, music, arts and cannabis for Westword since 2010. His work has appeared in GQ Magazine, Village Voice, YES! Weekly, Inman News and the Winston-Salem Journal. He likes running, cycling, and interviewing people.
Contact: Britt Chester