Walk into the center of artist Rich Chung’s studio, and suddenly you’re a giant in the middle of a stadium. Hundreds of miniature ceramic faces, handcrafted and in multicolored hues, look out from every side of the room (including a Yoda or two sitting near a 3D printer).
Chung has been an artist his entire life. From drawings and mud-sculptures crafted at his childhood home back in San Francisco to the years he spent studying studio art at University of California, Berkeley, he always knew he’d find a career somewhere in the art industry. When he landed a job with Jun Kaneko nearly two decades ago, Chung made the move to Omaha, where he has stayed ever since. The one job he never thought he’d have? Teaching.
Mr. Rich (as his students refer to him) now works with nonprofit art programs in the Omaha area, including the Joslyn’s Kent Bellows Mentoring Program (KBMP) and WhyArts.
Through KBMP, high school students apply to work with professional artists who mentor the students as they build a portfolio of work. Chung serves as the mentor for the Clay Media Program.
WhyArts provides art classes, workshops, and programs to underserved populations throughout the metro, which includes students of all ages and various backgrounds. Chung plans and prepares a lesson for each of his classes, making sure the activity can cater to every skill level. Regardless of the lesson plan, Chung’s main goal is to keep students actively engaged.
“You’re not just teaching them how to draw a circle, you’re also trying to teach them certain life skills and attitudes,” he explains. “It’s not just how do you get the paint to come out shiny, even though that’s definitely a part of it. It’s more about how do you handle yourself when the paint doesn’t come out shiny and you’ve tried 10 times?”
For Chung, this means taking an individualized approach. Whether he’s working with preschool students or senior citizens, he aims to connect with each student and figure out how much direction they need.
Aside from clay, Chung also works with—and teaches—painting, 3D printing, drawing exercises, printmaking, crafts, and computer software (such as Stop Motion and GarageBand). Teaching gives Chung the opportunity to learn and create alongside his students.
“I see different people every week or every day, and it’s a different challenge and different age group, and I really like that. It keeps me on my toes and is always interesting,” he says. “I realize now I’ll probably never be able to hold a job that’s 9-to-5 again.”
When Chung leaves the classroom, he transports students’ clay works back to his studio, where he fires them in his kiln and prepares them for glazing. Often, this entails long hours and many nights spent working late into the evening. For Chung, it’s always worth it. Whether he’s uploading work into the 3D printer, or inviting students over to finish a project, Chung is always looking for more ways to help his students.
“We want them to have a desire to learn,” Chung says. “That’s the main goal. It’s not what they learn, it’s that attitude of ‘I want to learn more and I want more knowledge.’”
Chung also plans to host an open-studio event in the fall, where community members can tour his workspace and view his art.
This article was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.