IAC gives local after school art program a boost

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Pottery instructor Steve Solomon will guide students in three separate wheel pottery workshops during the after school art program. The program is being supported this year by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Shepherd Gallery and Creativity Center, a Guttenberg nonprofit, is the proud recipient of an Art Project Grant from the Iowa Arts Council to enhance the organization's free after school art program. Funding for Art Project Grants is made possible by an annual appropriation from the Iowa Legislature to the Arts Division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs (Iowa Arts Council) and by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

“This fall, Shepherd Gallery and Creativity Center will begin its seventh year offering after school art programming at no cost to families, the school, or the community. We are excited to announce changes to the program made possible by the grant from the Iowa Arts Council,” said director Cindy Olsen.

The Art Project Grant has given funding for the nonprofit to hire local artists to teach workshops in their areas of expertise each week while school is in session. “This is the direction we've been wanting to take the after school art program since the beginning,” said Olsen, who first envisioned the Creativity Center while working with children through her counseling practice, where she often uses expressive art activities to reach youth. 

The after school art program began in the spring of 2010. Olsen contributed the original seed money to start the program, which was first held downstairs in the Albertus building. That space  later became Shepherd Gallery, and the after school art program is now held on the building's second story three days a week throughout the school year. 

Scholarships are available to any student, grades four and up, in the Clayton Ridge School District. “Thus far, we've given away well over 100 scholarships to every student who has attended the program in the past six years – and this is a tradition we plan to continue,” Olsen told The Press. 

In past years, the program has offered activities on a drop-in basis to scholarship recipients grades five and above, and has provided activities for children K-4 on Mondays. This year, students grades four and up are asked to select from a list of week-long courses, each taught by a local artist and supervised by Creativity Center staff, and to register in advance for the courses that interest them and work with their schedules. The organization maintains support for all art forms, and this year's workshops include wheel pottery, precious metal clay, photography, hip hop dance classes, painting pet portraits, candy making, stained glass, fashion design, art history, jewelry making, composition design, collaging, and more. 

With funding from the Iowa Arts Council, the structure of the program has changed – but the basic idea stays the same. “Our mission is to provide opportunities to learn about and participate in the arts,” said Olsen. “For five and a half hours each week of the school year, our students are participating in healthy, high-quality art experiences guided by trained professionals in a safe, nurturing environment.”

Emphasis in the program is not placed on grades or volume of work produced. “We encourage children on an individual basis to learn something new each day, take risks, and experiment, and reward them for their ability to stay engaged with the creative process,” Olsen explained. “We look for the blossoming of each child in the nonjudgmental, safe, and nurturing environment we provide.” 

Research has shown that the consistent presence of a single caring adult can have a significant impact on a young person’s growth and development. By the end of the 2015-16 school year,  students in the program will have met and worked with at least 14 artists from the community. Director Olsen, who is a licensed mental health counselor specializing in children and family counseling, works directly with students in the after school program on a regular basis. “The relationships formed with responsible adults in the community give our students a strong base of support everywhere they go,” she said.

Shepherd Gallery and Creativity Center is the only art center in Clayton County offering an after school program for students. “We believe we are reaching students who would otherwise fall through the cracks – students who might otherwise be unsupervised from the time the school day ends until their parents get home from work; students who don’t feel accepted by or are not interested in athletic programs; and students who simply can’t get enough art education to satisfy them with dwindling arts funding in schools,” Olsen went on. "The after school art program is the foundation of our organization. It is the reason we exist, and our mission is and always will be to give that program away.”

Participation in the arts teaches children to reflect, self-evaluate, find their voice, and see other points of view. CEOs across the board value creativity above all other employee characteristics, and credible research demonstrates consistently better outcomes for students highly involved in the arts: better grades, less likelihood of dropping out, and more positive attitudes about school. The studies also show that the benefits of high levels of arts participation makes the greatest difference for economically disadvantaged students.

The after school art program meets Monday and Thursday, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m., and Wednesday 2:30 – 5:00 p.m.   Find the after school art program schedule online at www.guttenbergcreativitycenter.com. Scholarship forms are available online or for pickup and drop off at Shepherd Gallery and Creativity Center, located directly across from Clayton Ridge High School at 214 S. River Park Drive in Guttenberg.

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