The Academy of Art of Highland Park



Ana Soto-Canino - Director/Chief Instructor/

Chief Safety Officer

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 eleven 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. 

Just know that when you give him a smile, you’re making his day!


Anurag "Anu" Singh - Client Services Coordinator/Registrar

Anu wants to live in a world filled with works of art, perfumes that immediately transport her to exotic places, and a no-fail strategy for getting rid of rabbits and squirrels from her garden (rabbit stew anyone? Just kidding!).

Anu holds a Master’s in Psychology and has over 20 years of experience working with individuals and families affected by mental illness. She has conducted extensive educational and training workshops to help foster awareness of mental illness, combat stigma, and provide available resources.

In pursuit of her visual arts practice, and for the past four years, Anu has steadily advanced from a novice to a “hard core practitioner”, as AAHP Director/Chief Instructor Ana puts it. She is currently working on a powerful mixed-media/watercolor composition, as she continues to advance through the studio’s intermediate watercolors level of advancement. You can find Anu engrossed in her artistic practice on Thursday mornings at the studio.

Whatever time she has left is usually spent on brainstorming ideas to outsmart her two teenage kids. Despite her best attempts, it hasn’t happened yet!

Anu “is looking forward to serving as part of the incredible staff at the Academy of Art!” 


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 third 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, and managing all business data caches.

In his spare time David loves to work on 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 a graduate of University of Delaware, where she studied 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.



Josh Cohen - Builder Extraordinaire

Josh, of Edison, is the Academy’s all-around trouble-shooter and builder. For the past four years he’s been ready, willing and more than able to help with heavy moving, the construction of studio furniture, and all manner of repairs. With his giant truck---a Ford F-250, 7.3 diesel---we hear him coming from a mile away, as no job is too small or too big. A military veteran, Josh served for four years under the US Marine Corps, stationed at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California, and serving one combat tour in Afghanistan. Josh was honorably discharged with rank of Corporal. As a graduate of Middlesex County College, he has earned four associate degrees: one in liberal arts, one in liberals arts/Psychology, one in social sciences, and one in Nursing. He’s now scoping for work as a licensed nurse and we wish him well. Josh loves Niah (his English Bulldog), his truck, hamburgers, and all sorts of music. He is also a dedicated bodybuilder.


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.


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 David Learn, and crew members Shane P., Ben K., Inaya S., Karine L., and Eowyn L.

Click here to see what the crew did at the Studio this Summer!


In loving memory of:

Jauria (how-REE-ah), aka "Jau Jau" or "Howie"


Official Studio Mascot

Live model and Officer-in-Charge-of-Morale. Yes, he made us laugh! His tail was the finest brush in the house. He was wickedly smart, the smartest dog you'll ever meet. Jau-Jau was happy to stay locked in his kennel at student's request.

727 Raritan Avenue, Highland Park, NJ 08904
Studio Line: (732)-777-2085
Emergency Hotline: (732)-668-9813 EMERGENCIES ONLY
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