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SMART Ideas

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The “plant a seed and watch it grow” analogy may feel a little tired, but bear with us. Imagine you are a gardener tending a small pot filled with seeds and soil. You either lean it toward the sun or seek out shade, depending on what will coax your eventual seedling to its full potential. You support this terra cotta venture, whispering encouragement as you nurture the start that one day bursts into full bloom.

The seedling in this analogy is a teenage artist with an interest in pursuing a career in the arts. That same artist, however, has limited access to resources he or she will need along the way. Enter the SMART and SMART+ programs at the Indianapolis Art Center.

A partnership between the IAC, Starfish Initiative and Big Brothers Big Sisters, Supportive Mentoring through ART, which forms “SMART” got its start in 2006. At-risk youth with limited access to educational opportunities in the arts are paired with adult mentors – half from Starfish and half from BBBS. The year-long commitment matches 20 adults with 20 youth, and together they study painting, drawing and sculpting with professional artists at the IAC.

The works for the upcoming Suspended in Jell-O: Alternate Universe show are getting put up for this week's big opening at the Indianapolis Art Center. -
  • The works for the upcoming Suspended in Jell-O: Alternate Universe show are getting put up for this week's big opening at the Indianapolis Art Center.

“Our focus is on trying to engage teen artists for as long as possible in the community,” says Wendy Lee Spacek, the IAC’s Youth and Teen Programs Manager. “We wanted to create an opportunity for students who were really engaged to invest more in their arts education.”

Students who complete the SMART program are eligible to apply for SMART+ and that’s when things really kick into high gear.

SMART+ accepts six students and their mentors each year. Where SMART is an introductory program, SMART+ is a chance for the students to work on their own projects in the medium of their choice. Instructor Erin Drew, a multidisciplinary artist, facilitates conversations, teaches art history and does demos of techniques that students wouldn’t have learned in SMART, such as silk screening. She introduces mediums and techniques the students might want to incorporate into their work, which has the potential to end up in the art show that SMART+ students put on at the end of the year.

SMART+ students participate in all aspects of the art world -- from creating the works and critiquing them to promoting and hosting an actual exhibit.
  • SMART+ students participate in all aspects of the art world -- from creating the works and critiquing them to promoting and hosting an actual exhibit.

Remember that budding flower metaphor? If this were the case, at this point the gardener needs to step back, because the students are in charge of the nursery now. From the design of the postcard advertising the show to hanging the exhibit, SMART+ students do it all.

“The focus of the SMART+ program,” Spacek says, “is to increase the youths’ self-confidence and their ability to communicate.” At first, she explains, the students are shy about critiquing each other’s work. As the year progresses, however, the teens come into their confidence and the instructor can take a step back from being the class leader.

Suspended in Jell-O: Alternate Universe will feature student art and will be shown at the IAC until Feb. 7th. -
  • Suspended in Jell-O: Alternate Universe will feature student art and will be shown at the IAC until Feb. 7th.

The SMART+ exhibition, “Suspended in Jell-O: Alternate Universe,” will be on display from Dec. 7th to Feb. 5th. Its opening reception will take place this Friday (Dec. 11th), alongside the IAC’s winter exhibitions. “We always want teen art openings to coincide with regular IAC events,” Spacek says. “It reinforces for the youth that what they do matters and that they have a place in the community.”

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