Instructor Birchak to harness ‘new energy’ at Aurora’s Bicentennial Arts Center


AURORA | After nearly 30 years of taking and teaching art classes, developing a portfolio and accruing an extensive wardrobe of velveteen berets, Paul Birchak is finally getting back to his artistic roots.

A native of Denver, Birchak cut his artistic teeth by attending classes at community colleges and recreation centers in Eugene, Oregon in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

Now, several moves across the Mountain West and the creation of pieces spanning an array of media later, he’s paying his skills and experiences forward in Aurora.

Birchak was recently hired as the city’s newest part-time fine arts instructor, a role that will allow him to teach several two-dimensional and ceramics classes at the Bicentennial Arts Center on East Alameda Avenue.

Birchak got his artistic start later in life while he was living as a single parent in the Pacific Northwest. He said he began taking classes to maintain his sanity while raising his two daughters, Fawn and Rhea, and working multiple jobs.

“I basically worked all the time at a couple jobs, and I thought, ‘I’m going to lose my mind unless I have a social life,’” he said. “So I enrolled in end-of-the-day type community education programs. I got hooked right from the start.”

Now a member of the Pastel Society of Colorado and Plein Air Artists Colorado, Birchak went on to take classes at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon, both of which are located in Eugene. He then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he spent nearly a decade teaching art classes at University of New Mexico Los Alamos and selling his work at local galleries along that city’s revered bohemian hotspot, Canyon Road.

“It’s been a long road,” Birchak said. “Some parts of my life feel like a whole different book off the shelf.”

He also leads community art classes in both Arvada and Westminster.

In Aurora, Birchak will be taking charge of several youth classes offered by the city, including the Community of Many Providing After School Success (COMPASS) program, which is run in coordination with Aurora Public Schools and other city entities.

Birchak joins more than 50 other art instructors employed by the city who teach classes ranging from photography to dance to ceramics, according to Lisa Mumpton, cultural arts supervisor for the city.

Mumpton said that public art offerings in the city have continued to proliferate in recent years, a movement aided by a surge of renovation efforts and a patchwork of new funding mechanisms.

“I think there’s new energy here (at Bicentennial) because we’re getting funding cooperation from other city departments to do some fix-ups,” she said. “Like asbestos abatement, repainting everything, re-hanging all the cabinetry … we also got new sinks, a new chemical storage room and a new air filtration system to reduce the amount of dust.”

Birchak said that the recent improvements and innovations at Bicentennial have energized his early work with the city.

“It’s a dynamite place for people to go,” he said of the facility that was recently fitted with several new Raku kilns. “I think everything is just really starting to grow.”

However, that growth has been difficult to manage at-times, according to Mumpton, who said that facilities and spaces like those at Bicentennial are becoming increasingly scarce for Aurora artists.

“We’re operating at such a high level that we’ve run out of space to accommodate everyone’s programming,” she said. “So, that’s definitely been a challenge.”

Capacity has continued to pose an issue for several of the city’s cultural magnets, including the Aurora Fox Arts Center, the Aurora History Museum and the city’s Recreation Division, according to Mumpton. 

At Bicentennial, she added that the city could continue to add staff in some disciplines, such as fine art, so that the center could remain open for longer during the week.

“We’ve kind of reached our capacity,” she said.