BY HAYLEY THOMAS CAIN
Have you forgotten what it was like to be a kid? Let me refresh you. There was probably a lot of, “Don’t eat the paste,” “No, you can’t draw on Mommy’s wall,” and, “No glitter allowed on the dining room table!” going on.
Instinctively, you knew that making things (with Play-Doh, crayons, and hand-painted macaroni) was fun but had its limits. Art happened at specific, highly contained moments where rules must be followed and assignments were graded. Often, you were congratulated for how well you painted within the lines.
By contrast, the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum’s new pilot program is like a fat water balloon filled with acrylic paint hurdling toward a blank canvas. For once, kids are asked to keep their hands on the artwork, please.
The new Discovery Artists Program brings together professional painters, illustrators, and designers every Sunday at the Discovery Museum, thanks to a grant from the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission. Here, kids are allowed to bring their wildest creative ambitions to fruition. The trick? Real-life adult artists are there on site to help young prodigies make the leap from concept to execution.
“We want to create artistic experiences for children that will stick with them for years to come and inspire them to think and use their imaginations,” Program Director Amy Blasco said. “The goal is to bring these artists in as mentors for the kids and their families so that the youth can get some real hands-on art experience and exposure.”
The fun unfolds each Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. and will continue through early May. (Note: The program runs from noon to 2 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month, before the museum’s regular Nutrition Expedition.) With five new exhibits at the play space, you could say there’s a lot going on.
“Kids can walk up to the creative station, meet the artist of the day, and go straight into hands-on making,” Blasco said, adding that the program’s debut offering—which took place Sunday, Feb. 5—showcased still-life drawings of animals and other nature scenes.
Professional children’s book author Jill Iversen taught the class with passion and expertise, just as she would a group of adults.
“They used pastels, charcoal, and colored pencils,” Blasco said. “The kids are so excited to get to experience art in a way that many of them haven’t before. They’re surprised that they get to use the supplies that we give to them and that they get one-on-one help from the teachers. They’re just so happy to take hold of that paintbrush, dip into the paint, and go crazy.”
To celebrate the launch of the new program, daily educational activities around the museum are currently dedicated to the arts: Children can learn about Italian sculptors and design towering pasta sculptures, create splatter art like Jackson Pollock, or emulate the vibrant flowers of Frida Kahlo.
It doesn’t take long to realize that as much as the students learn from the instructors, the instructors can also learn a thing or two from the kids.
“Kids view the world differently than adults and are more open minded when it comes to art,” Blasco said. “They aren’t afraid to try different things and get messy and make mistakes.”
We all know that mistakes lead to inventions, breakthroughs, and all manner of societal benefits. Still, there are few places were local kids can have permission to let it all out and try something new.
Blasco said she knows that schools are struggling when it comes to funding art programs, and that’s where the museum can swoop in and work as an ally, bringing new tools to young hands. Other artists participating in the program include Beverly Johnson, a local acrylic painter and longtime Discovery Museum supporter; watercolorist and teacher Mike Corob; and mixed media artist Luccia Toros.
Make no mistake: The kids are generally just 5 to 10 years old, but they aren’t shy when it comes to expressing thoughts and feelings through their chosen media.
Blasco recalled one particular experience when she watched a gaggle of young artists fasten scraps and castaway items into houses, fairies, musical instruments—even gifts for their pets.
“They took items that many adults could see as trash and created a whole new world. They just love pretending together and playing make believe,” Blasco said. “Now, they can do that through their art. It’s incredible to see.”
Hayley Thomas Cain remains a fan of finger painting. Contact her through Managing Editor Joe Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.