The Academy of Art of Highland Park



Ana Soto-Canino - Director/Chief Instructor

Ana began her life in studio at age 9, to become an award-winning classically trained visual artist, as well as studio and field instructor. She has served as officer, as well as judge, for various community-based arts events in Middlesex County, NJ. She has taught thousands of practitioners through the apprentice studio she founded in 1998, the Academy of Art of Highland Park, where the teaching staff teach the deep craft practice of over 30 media. Her young protégés routinely garner topmost awards in local, regional, and national competitions, and her teen Portfolio Prep students place in the nation’s top art colleges, schools of architecture, and liberal arts campuses.  Many of her adult students have gone on to exhibit and sell their works and realize many of their aspirations as artists.

Besides her long-term tenure at various apprentice studios and art schools in Puerto Rico, the USA and Italy, she has toured and taught in Asia to cultivate her interest in comparative cultural studies. Ana holds a Bachelor’s of Science from Princeton University in Psychology, with a concentration in Visual Perception, and a transcript thick with art history studies. She holds a Masters degree from the New School in Urban Policy and Planning, and incomplete PhD studies at the New School in Political Theory. Having served as an award-winning news journalist, Ana now writes on creativity and artistic practice for the AAHP.

Detailed Credentials


Aaron Balavram - Senior Instructor/Studio Administrator

Aaron Balavram was born in Sayreville, New Jersey, but grew up in the great town of Highland Park, where he has spent most of his life.  Having always had an adoration for the arts and sciences, he found a second home at the Academy of Art of Highland Park, where he learned to explore the craft of fine art as a science.  Aaron began his training at the Academy at the age of fourteen, and by the following year, he was eager to expand his knowledge by aiding in the teaching of his peers, which he has continued to do for the past eight years.  He is now a senior instructor, as well as the head of the sculpture department and “The Sky’s the Limit” program for Artists with special needs

Aaron has also branched out to serve the community with other art programs, such as “Bridges”, an Edison Township program for “at risk” youths, and is also heading the Veterans Housing Project donor-wall mural through the Highland Park Reform Church.  He has also served as an after-school art teacher at Montesory Netivot, as well as the middle school and high school art teacher for the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center in East Brunswick.

Aaron has also been working with Ana on developing the Aii Field Studio, organizing field trips and outings for all you wonderful artists that just can’t wait to get outside! He’s always been somewhat of an outdoorsman himself, having been going camping and hiking with his friends and family for longer than he can remember. 

Here at the Academy, you may also know Aaron as the one who takes your calls and emails, and is always happy to do so.  He gets the privilege of greeting you all both on the phone and at the door, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.  Just know that when you give him a smile, you’re making his day!


David Segal - Systems Administrator

(Tech Guru and Troubleshooter Extraordinaire)

A young man with a gift for the web, David is the Systems Administrator at the Academy. He has been part of the AAHP team since his freshman year at Highland Park High School. He is now a second year Computer Science student full time at  Rutgers University in New Brunswick, just across the river from Highland Park.

David constructed and manages simultaneously the Academy of Art of Highland Park website, the ArtVentures International, Ink (Aii) website, and Ana’s personal website— He is in the studio as often as his busy college schedule allows him to be, constructing the Student Bulletin, designing a new poster for the studio, updating the website, managing all business data caches, or maybe just feeding Jauria.

In his spare time David loves to work his car, play drums in his band, and explore different parts of New Jersey on his bike.

To contact David directly regarding an inquiry about this website, please email


LE Weinstein - AAHP’s In-House Designer

LE started taking classes at the AAHP in 2003 as a child, became a teen Coach in 2008, and now serves as a Senior Instructor whenever back in town. She is currently a Junior at the University of Delaware, studying Visual Communication. LE has grown up at the AAHP as her second home for the past 12 years. As the AAHP’s professional designer, she has produced the AAHP’s storefront sign, the ArtMobile vehicle wrap, and the studio’s 2014-2015 T-shirt line. She also co-designed the new AAHP logo and has a backlog of further design jobs for the Academy. LE loves pasta and volleyball. Her de rigueur fashion style is “Comfortable-n-Lazy”, to quote her verbatim.  She watches way too many TV shows and still manages to keep all the stories straight.


Megan McGrory - Social Media Manager

Megan was born and spent the majority of her childhood in Sydney Australia and moved to Metuchen New Jersey in 2006. She joined the Academy as a student in 2008, and has been coaching here since 2012. Megan has enjoyed and pursued traveling with her friends and family since birth and looks forward to experiencing as many different cultures as possible. She manages the AAHP's Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr.


Yu Qing Zhou - Tuesday Brush Surgeon/Junior Studio


Yu Qing, a 15-year old HPHS student, is trained and practiced in the healing arts that concern specialized tools and instruments. As our Brush Surgeon, she is in charge of the studio’s Brush Hospital & Rehab Center, where she presides over the repair, conditioning, and maintenance of the professional instruments our students use day in and day out. These include everything from a 200-piece collection of professional brushes to technical pens, to lighting solutions, and much more. Yu Qing is also the one-woman army in charge of mid-week studio maintenance, Receiving, and dog handling. Last but not least, Yu Qing is one of three excellent members of the Coaching Team who serve Special Needs artists at the drawing board or easel. A rather skinny foodie, she notes “I like lentils, but I can eat the whole world.”  She’s also a kickboxer.

Inaya S. Singh - FWC/Friday Brush Surgeon

Inaya, 15, of North Brunswick, is one of two Brush Surgeons at the AAHP. Our Brush Surgeons are responsible for the maintenance, repair and housing of all our sensitive tools and instruments. The Brush Surgeons receive training in-house, and come to develop finer “sense-abilities” in the handling specialized tools and instrumentation. They do this by managing our studio’s Brush Hospital (where we send tools for repair and conditioning) and the Rehab Center (where tools are staged to return to service). Inaya has proven herself as the responsible, quick and versatile learner that the job of Brush Surgeon demands.

Inaya also plays lacrosse for her school, and percussion for her school band. She lists cheese ravioli as her “fav” food. When asked for her “fav” school subject, she replied, “The most bearable is English”. She is also a dancer, currently practicing south Indian Bharatanatyam, and we can hardly wait for her recital next year. She is also an active practitioner here at the studio, where she is progressing through our Drawing syllabus, and very well at that.


Natalie Turner - Special Needs Volunteer

Natalie has been flexing her muscle as one who is committed to community and service. She recently approached me seeking to do a little good through the studio, in whichever way she could. And that’s when she immediately accepted the job of intern to our programs for the less advantaged.

It will be no small feat. Working alongside Aaron and myself, Natalie will rename, re-define, re-organize and launch our services to students with special learning needs, students whose families are experiencing financial crises, and those with visual impairments.

 Natalie is a dynamo. In just two weeks, she has already shaken up things; she is now developing a program whereby local shopkeepers might routinely exhibit--–at their places of business---the astonishing work of our special needs artists.

 I hope you give Natalie a warm welcome and all the enthusiasm and support you can muster. I now present this amazing teen, in her own words:

Hi there. My name is Natalie T. and I am an active student of the Academy of Art of Highland Park (AAHP), as well as an intern. I attend East Brunswick High School where I proudly work with the National Art Honor Society and Yearbook Club. In school, I am currently enrolled in a full year of Art Studio class, a semester of Intro to Sculpture, and a quarter class of Printmaking.

During my next couple of years in high school I will continue studying the visual arts and enrolling in honor and AP Art Studio classes. This is my third year studying art at AAHP and I am now on exploring watercolors.

Even though I am not exactly sure what I want to do when I get older, I definitely wish to study the arts in college and have a career in the arts. 

My current job as AAHP intern is to refine our “Dare Dream: Anything is Possible” program”, which provides services to young artists with special needs and to young artists currently facing disadvantages.

I am proudly coming up with new ideas everyday to make this an outstanding program. I look forward to serve through the program, and to meet in person all who might helps us out. Please feel free to contact me with any questions!



The Work Crew

The Work Crew is the behind-the-scenes team that keeps the studio in working order. They come in on Friday when the studio is closed and toil like fairytale elves. Yet instead of working to the tinkling of silver bells, they play everything from old Beatles vinyl, to the newest indie hits. They do everything from vacuuming, cleaning, scrubbing, brush repair, furniture assembly and art supply shopping to washing all the rags the studio rag monster consumes. Everyone, works together to keep this ship afloat. Without the spirited and almost heroic toil of our daring work crew team we wouldn't have clean brushes, sharp pencils, or neatly organized works of art. The work crew is not currently accepting new applicants. The Work Crew includes manager Aaron Balavram, and crew members Patrick L., Sara B., Tommy V., and Inaya S.


727 Raritan Avenue, Highland Park, NJ 08904 (732)-777-2085