Smile Politely

Even online, Young Artist’s Studio remains a staple for youth arts

When faced with the reality that “arts education continues to be underrepresented, underfunded and underappreciated as part of a core curriculum in the [Urbana] schools,” Urbana Arts & Culture Program Coordinator Rachel Storm decided to see how her office could help. 

Now in its third year, The Young Artist’s Studio (YAS) program continues to provide robust arts opportunities for Urbana’s youngest residents. For Storm, “my hope  is that it’s a piece of a broader puzzle to ensure that we have regular ongoing arts education for young people.” By offering a series of workshops featuring various local artists, youth ages five and up can learn, create, and explore different forms of art while enjoying time with their peers. Each workshop features a different local artist from a variety of disciplines. Past events have hosted puppeteers, African dancers, visual artists, musicians, Native American storytellers, and more. Storm says that all the variety makes it hard to pick a favorite.

What I really like is kind of a smorgasbord of options, and I like that we have a little something for everybody,” she says. “Some kid that really likes dance might really not care for the visual arts, or maybe not be as drawn from one to the other, but if you have enough for everybody, then they also start to kind of form a connection with the program itself… They might come in actually, explore the thing they didn’t think that they liked, and learn that they might actually like that a little bit too if they give it a try.”

A previous workshop of note featured Urbana artist Marc-Anthony Macon. While Macon’s work has explored a wide range of techniques and subjects in the past, the main focus of his YAS workshop was uniquely tailored to a young audience in which you could “drop all your expectations” and simply try to create as much art as possible in a short period of time. The workshop ended with art covering the floor, full of masterpieces the participants then got to share with the group.

Photo of artist Marc-Anthony Macon at his Young Artist's Studio workshop. Photo courtesy of the Urbana Arts & Culture Program,

“We’ve had really just a wide range of things that we’ve offered, and each artist has come up with their own unique way of teaching,” Storm explains. However, the general format remains consistent: introductions, the core lesson, and then the “share-out”, when participants can share whatever art they have created during the workshop.

Storm also reminisces on the share-out from a recent workshop with Urbana puppeteer Mark Enslin. “He did a parade of puppets at the end of it and we walked around with our puppets, we introduced them, we talked about what characteristics your puppet had, so it also was like creating characters.” These share-outs gave kids a safe space to take pride in their work. But ever since YAS has been forced to move into a virtual format due to coronavirus-related regulations, the setup and atmosphere of the workshops has been notably different.

However, Storm reports that the shift was in many ways actually fairly easy to make. Rooms made available by the Urbana Free Library, Urbana Arts & Culture Program’s partner and collaborator in YAS, would often get so full they would have to shut the doors. This is, of course, no longer a concern. In addition, the virtual format has actually encouraged exploration of some new and different artistic forms that could only be manifested online. In a recent online workshop featuring Thomas Nicol, founder of Pens to Lens, participants were encouraged to find objects around their room that they would want to animate. They were then taught the basics of stop-motion animation and were able to create their own short films.

No matter the format, YAS gives the youth of Urbana a unique and expansive opportunity to engage in arts education. According to Storm, this is the most valuable aspect of the program. And I have to agree. 

The next workshop, Accidental Pop Art! features Mahomet-based artist EKAH and is scheduled for Sunday, October 18th. Participants “will learn how to “see” art in the clouds–or in this case, it random blobs of paint.” Every young artists will “use their imagination to find and trace images they see,” and by the end have their own creation to bring home and display. Find out more or register here

Check out the rest of the upcoming Youth Artist’s Studio schedule at the Urbana Free Library’s Facebook page

All photos courtesy of the Urbana Arts and Culture Program

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