Art Academy summer workshops spark creativity in students of any age
Murielle Gaither, director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, remembers participating in Southeast Missouri State University's Art Academy summer workshops when she was a kid. She still has pieces she completed from a handmade paper class. Now, she's helping run it.
"It's neat to be able to see it on the other end and get to participate in these kids having the same fun that I did," Gaither said.
According to coordinator Carol Horst, the Art Academy has been a collaboration between the university and the Arts Council for close to 30 years. Southeast has taken full responsibility of the program in the past 10 years.
Before Southeast came into the picture, Horst said the Art Academy was held at various local elementary schools without air conditioning.
Horst was finishing her graduate studies in Southeast's art department at that time and noticed available art studio space that would serve as a better learning environment for Art Academy participants. The university agreed.
Horst said the Arts Council continued to oversee the registration and business affairs until she was hired on at the university. When the Arts Council was no longer able to support the summer workshops, a transfer was made for all aspects of the program to go through one entity -- Southeast.
The Arts Council wanted to remain involved, so its gallery space proceeded to be used to exhibit the students' artwork. When August rolls around each year, Art Academy students display their best pieces.
"Our museum and our gallery isn't open during the summer," Horst said. "Plus it's a good way to connect the Arts Council with the community."
Horst said, most importantly, it's about giving students the opportunity to exhibit.
The program has more than tripled in size over the years. The Art Academy started with around four total workshops. Four in the 2015 session were cut due to lack of enrollment, but 18 were initially scheduled.
The workshops varied from formats of drawing and painting to ceramics and lithography, while the students ranged in ages from 6 to adult.
Horst said there's a limit of 15 students per workshop to cater to a more one-on-one interaction between student and teacher. Southeast art education students also act as assistants to the instructors.
"It's great that the education students have the opportunity to work with them [workshop participants] because you learn a lot by doing," Horst said.
Graduate credit is even offered for art teachers. Following the workshop, a teacher must construct a curriculum based on the topic and apply it into their classroom. They document their own students' understanding and submit their findings to the university for approval.
The "Children's Ceramics" and "Young Potters" workshops created collaborative pieces to be placed in a silent auction. The highest bidders receive the works and the proceeds go to funding future Art Academy scholarships. Horst said the Academy was able to issue about 20 this year.
Work from "ArtReach!" and "Painting with the Elderly," both extensions of the Art Academy, also was included in the Arts Council's gallery space.
"ArtReach!" aims to encourage underserved students through after school art programs located at four sites throughout the community. "Painting with the Elderly" helps get paint brushes in the hands of retirees at five local retirement centers as an exercise of therapy and exploration.
Collaborative quilt and mosaic projects were done by "ArtReach!" students as well. "Joy Quilts" will be donated to help brighten the lives of those at the Women's Safe House, while the handprint mosaic made at The Bridge Community Church site will be returned for display there.
Horst said there were more than 120 participants at the Art Academy workshops alone, 50 were reached through "Painting with the Elderly" and "ArtReach!" totalled year round between 250 and 300 students.
The exhibition's opening reception on Aug. 7 bustled about with 400 students and their families, coinciding with Cape Girardeau's downtown First Friday events.
Gaither said being somewhat of a children's show, things don't have to be as formal. It's about having fun and making memories. It's a family experience. It's OK to be the proud mom who takes a few too many pictures of their child unapologetically beaming next to their artwork.
"I'd say that's one of the big reasons why we do this, is just being able to further cultivate that child's passion and love for the arts and give them something to be proud of, something that they can share in a public space, a professional gallery space like this, and invite their family and their friends," Gaither said. "So we really try to honor that."
Horst added that though it's a broad concept, creativity is ultimately just as essential to a person's learning as any sort of test-taking.
"To give students the opportunity to be creative in a very accepting, open, exploratory environment in the summer is very empowering to them," Horst said. "It's stimulating their creativity, which we value in our culture. We really value creative problem solvers who can help make our world a better place. That's what we try to focus on in our summer workshops and our art workshops across the board, is to explore what students think, see and feel about the world and to visualize those ideas and to help promote creativity."