Despite studies that show learning about art is critical to development; in the last couple of decades art has fallen off the list of mandatory school subjects. That means that in order to learn this skill, most kids must study the subject as an extracurricular activity.
Thanks to forward-thinking organizations like Art Innovators, which provides children with art classes at school and other community locations, kids lucky enough to be involved in the program are reaping the benefits of an art education.
“Several studies have shown a correlation between art education and achievement in other academic areas, which makes programs like Art Innovators so important,” says Anna Dress, Children’s Services Librarian for the OC Public Libraries, Westminster Library, where they recently hosted a series of classes by Art Innovators. “Creative thinking exercises the brain and stretches well beyond the arts—it encourages children (and later, adults) to ‘think outside the box,’ which is a skill they can apply to all areas of life. Today’s little artists become tomorrow’s innovators, problem solvers, inventors and creators.”
“Where Creativity Takes Flight”
At Art Innovators, mother/ daughter team, Marisa and Sabina Timothy, offer kids the freedom to express themselves without any expectations. “Our tagline is: Where creativity takes flight,” says Marisa. Sabina adds, “We give kids the opportunity to be free from ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ and to express themselves however they desire. This fosters in kids self-worth and confidence, and that positively affects every area of their lives.”
Opportunities to express themselves also lead to successful futures, adds Marisa. “The irony is that we put our kids through the educational system with all of its testing, but when they graduate and get a job and are asked for their ideas, they freeze, because that type of creativity isn’t often fostered in schools. While our class format is intentional and structured, we also allow the children freedom of expression. They are often initially overwhelmed by that freedom, but they soon learn to work without any expectations, and a wonderful thing then happens —their authentic selves emerge in their artwork, which is wonderful to see.”
Everyone Has an Inner Artist
“We are all artistic in our own ways. It’s a part of being human,” says Sabina. “The truth is that we all need an artistic outlet of some kind.”
To bring out the inner artist in the children they teach, Art Innovators introduces kids to a wide variety of mediums and processes. “Every class is an adventure, because we’re always doing something new,” says Sabina. “Exposing students to a wide variety of styles has an added bonus of teaching them about various cultures that they might not have had exposure to otherwise.”
Art Innovators’ students have experienced a wide range of projects, including assignments inspired by American artist Keith Haring and the ancient art of Suminagashi (Japanese marbling), which features a process of marbling paper with ink and water. They’ve also done projects featuring Egyptian, Native American and Ancient Greek art styles using a wide variety of media, such as pastels and colored pencils.
“We’re always amazed at the work created by the students,” says Marisa. “The teachers, parents and the students themselves are surprised at how well they do.”
The caliber of the art pieces done by the students is of significance, since it’s the policy of the program not to touch student work or guide their hand at all, notes Sabina. “One of my favorite experiences is to watch parents come in after class and see their surprise when students insist they did the artwork themselves. It’s very empowering for the children to have their parents amazed and praising them for their work.”
Suzanne Mapes is the mother of eight-year-old Diego Garrido, who has taken Art Innovators’ classes for a year-and-a-half. “Diego started when he was in first grade, and I was really impressed with the unique art pieces he created. The philosophy at Art Innovators of building confidence and problem solving through art really clicked with Diego and me,” says Mapes, a professional photographer, who today teaches for the company.
The art on the inside cover of this issue is the work of Diego, who says that he wanted “to draw something outside of our universe. I wanted to draw squiggly lines and straight lines, and so I did,” says Diego, who already has a 30-page art portfolio.
Freedom to Explore
Another unique aspect of Art Innovators is their use of permanent markers and no erasers. “The inability to erase and start over teaches students to take a step back, take a deep breath and accept what happens,” says Sabina. “When they do make what could be considered a ‘mistake,’ they learn to adjust to it. This is a freeing, confidence building experience that spills over into all areas of their lives, including academics and sports.”
At the Westminster Library this past spring, they held a series of classes by Art Innovators during Orange County’s Imagination Celebration. “We were fortunate to have our Friends of the Library pay for the classes, which we offered to our young patrons for free,” says Dress. “The four stand-alone classes each taught varying artistic methods. The teachers were all kind and patient and genuinely cared about fostering creativity in the children. I was truly impressed by the finished artwork the children were able to produce under their guidance, and the experience seemed to boost their self-confidence.”
The Timothys became involved in Art Innovators after Sabina started working for the company in 2010. “I found that I loved teaching kids art,” says Sabina, who personally enjoys a wide variety of art mediums, including designing quilts and sewing. She started as an assistant and was soon promoted to instructor, eventually becoming an apprentice to the owner-director.
When the previous owners decided to sell the company in fall 2013, the first person they asked to take over was Sabina. Marisa, who is a certified re-designer working in interior design, had just left a fulltime position, so the mother-daughter duo decided to join forces and buy and run the business together.
“The business is going really well,” says Sabina. “Our strengths complement one another. We also both enjoy interacting with the parents and watching the kids’ confidence build. Seeing their artistic styles emerge at a young age is beautiful to see.”
For more information about Art Innovators, visit: oc55.artinnovators.com
Published in the Jul/Aug 2016 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph by William Wallace