I took my daughters, 6 and 7, to attend a kids' painting class led by local professional artist Kevin West. I didn't know what to expect as the flyer just called it a portrait making class ... and it was $30 per child. Wanting to support cultural arts scene in Indy, I signed them up. The girls were excited -- one of them is really into painting, and the other is vaguely interested in the idea of "doing art."
The Gifted Kids class began at 11a.m. at the Boys & Girls Club on the Far Eastside. There were maybe 30 other children there, all under the age of 12 and mostly African-American. Each child had a bar stool and table complete with an 18-by-20-inch canvas that had their portrait drawn on with pencil, paint brushes and cleaning supplies. At the beginning of the class Kevin spoke to the children about what he does. He explained that he's an artist full time and that they could be one too. This could have very well been the first time many of these children had heard or seen the visual arts as a career path. After the introduction, West led each child through a line of paint colors that he'd previously numbered and let them choose the "mood" of their painting. They had to choose colors that worked within a palette, but they could be vibrant or subdued.
My daughters sat next to each other and, although a bit hesitant that they might not be able to create a masterpiece, began their work. The project was essentially a paint-by-numbers exercise that was set up so that the pieces would all end up being quite nice. I realized, then, how much work West put into this project before the event and that a $30 price point probably did not cover all of the paint and canvas and labor for drawing 30 or so kids' portraits. I walked around the room, saw the paintings come to life and saw the children feeling proud, working patiently and smiling at the work they were creating. I loved that this was happening. I loved that kids were being exposed to art and that they'd have an original piece on canvas after 2 hours.
Music was playing in the background. Juice boxes and cookies were available. It was an environment made for children, and they'd all come specifically to paint. How often do you see that happening -- especially within the black community? I couldn't thank West enough. Not because my daughters were enjoying it or that we got free art, but because he thought enough of Indy's next generation to teach them about becoming an artist and to expose them to the craft. Kevin West is a contemporary abstract artist based in Indianapolis. He's the current artist in residency at the Mavris Arts and Events Center. Coincidentally, he's also a Boys & Girls Club alumnus.
A 2013 New York Times article says that students who, by lottery, were selected to visit a museum for field trips later demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.
If we're considering a generation of civic-minded and culturally savvy residents in Indy, projects like West's certainly seem like a way to achieve that. Kudos again to our artists knowing what it takes to design the future of the city.