March Community Game Changer
The MSU Denver Center for Visual Art hosts the Young Artists Studio, a free after-school art program. Photo by Jessica Taves
Center for Visual Art transforms youth arts education
By Amy Phare
Arts education in public schools is vanishing, but one gallery in Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe is taking action – only they’re not fighting back.
Instead, they’re taking matters into their own hands. At the Metropolitan State University of Denver Center for Visual Art (CVA), a do-it-yourself approach resulted in the Young Artist Studio, a free after-school program offered to neighborhood children.
“Art stimulates creative thinking and innovation. It is a vehicle for understanding, whether it be urban issues or different demographics, cultures, realities or people,” says Amy Tancig, CVA business and development director. “But with school hours focused on academics, a lot of art has been cut. This is where we’re able to fill in. They’re getting hours of arts instruction that they would not have received in school programing.”
The Young Artist Studio helped transform that problem into an opportunity for Don Olguin, who brings his two children to the program.
“Public schools are limiting what they provide,” says Olguin. “The program gives them another perspective on how they view things. MSU Denver gives them exposure to art mediums and how they are able to expand their outlook.”
His 11-year-old daughter, Elle, has been attending the program for a year-and-a-half, and she too recognizes the benefits of arts education.
“It’s really fun, and you can do more art if you don’t do it enough already,” she says. “I don’t have art at my school, so this is a good opportunity.”
But the instruction at the Young Artist Studio involves more than art creation. The CVA shows significant contemporary art from international artists worldwide. Exhibits rotate every eight to 10 weeks, so students learn a variety of techniques and processes reflective of the exhibits.
“It builds an encouraging confluence of urban children and contemporary art,” says CVA Education Director Talya Dornbush. “Also, because we are not just a contemporary art gallery — we are the University art gallery — we create a bridge across Speer for families in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood to see MSU Denver education in creative industries as possibilities.”
While Dornbush coaches the instructors in curriculum building, lesson planning and classroom management, for the most part, MSU Denver students lead the courses, providing a hands-on learning opportunity for teacher educators, as well.
“We are an arm of the University in the community, so we’re able to rely on academics, faculty and resources to strengthen our programming,” says Tancig. “It makes it a valuable experience to the community. We provide accessible, diverse art experiences that provide a platform for dialogue on urban issues.”
The program also works closely with the Denver Housing Authority’s (DHA) Bridge Project. At-risk youth, many whom are African refugees, attend the Young Artist Studio.
“Because they’re refugees, there’s so much focus on getting their basic needs met, like housing, healthcare and education,” says Ben Worrall, site coordinator of the Bridge Project South Lincoln Site. “People need to realize how music and arts can round out a child. Some have post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma from refugee camps. It’s difficult to get them to open up, but with art and music, they don’t have to explicitly say it. It also gives them inspiration and avenues to pursue dreams that would otherwise fall by wayside.”
Each day, between eight and 15 children attend the Young Artist Studio — an area that both Tancig and Dornbush would like to see improve.
“If we had too many kids, that would be a wonderful problem to have,” says Tancig. “I would love to see them participate and visit the CVA and exhibits — the whole community and parents, too, to connect as a family. It energizes the neighborhood, whether in galleries, homes or schools. It makes for a more collaborative community because of the shared enjoyment.”
Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver
Community Game Changer Archive
September: Ricardo Rocha
October: Professor AnnJanette Alejano-Steele
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November: Faculty Member April Hill
– Watch November Community Game Changer Promo
December: Alumn Jeff Martinez
January: Professor Aaron Brown
February: MSU Denver alumna inspires girls to pursue science careers
– Watch February Community Game Changer Promo