Written By Kingsli Kraft | April 4th, 2019
Every other month of the year, you can step off the elevator at Art in the Loft and peruse plenty of beautiful artwork from dozens of local artists. But this month is special. Yes, you can still see plenty of beautiful artwork from dozens of local artists, but those artists are all students.
This is the eighteenth year that, for the month of April (specifically today, April 4th, through April 27th), Art in the Loft will be filled with hundreds of vibrant works of art from more than twenty different schools in Alpena and the surrounding areas. From elementary school through high school, twenty five pieces of artwork from each school are selected over the course of the year by art teachers to be showcased at the Young Artist Exhibit. Over the years, the exhibit has really grown and now schools know to look forward to this month and they put a lot of effort and pride into the pieces that they submit. Many schools feel they have reputations to uphold in the gallery and that inspires and encourages their students to create with even more passion and excitement.
But what is it like for the students to see their artwork on display?
“It’s one thing to see your parents display your artwork in your house, but to see it in a professional setting, the kids’ faces when they get off the elevator is amazing. They drag their parents into the gallery and hunt for their artwork among the hundreds of entries.” says Brooke Stevens, Education Coordinator at Art in the Loft, and the main facilitator of the Young Artist Exhibit. All of the artwork is mixed up throughout the Loft, they are not separated according to schools. This way it encourages students and parents to take their time to observe the artwork of all the students.
The variety of mediums shifts from year to year. Some years there is a lot of 3-D art, sculptures and jewelry, and other years it shifts back to 2-D art, collage, paintings, pen. You’ll see pieces from realism to abstract, from colorful to black and white, and no matter how long you walk around, there are always pieces that you don’t notice until your second or third visit. There is always something to discover.
Every year, Art in the Loft likes to include an interactive art project for the students and families to participate in during the receptions. Last year, everyone added a feather to a mural and together created a wing mural to have your photo taken in front of. In other years volunteer artists have helped kids create little art projects in the classroom. This year the classroom will still be open with crayons, and markers and colored pencils for people to hang out and create.
But the main interactive component this year will be a collaborative mural. Last week, Art in the Loft staff painted a black outline on the wall, and now during the reception students and parents and the public will have the opportunity to fill in a shape and leave a bit of color on the wall.
On Saturday, April 6th, and Saturday, April 13th, there is a full schedule of special classes for kids of all ages. Everything from Storybook Yoga, to Mini Watercolor Journal, to Creative Cupcakes, to Kids in the Kitchen. Check out the full schedule or register for a class here.
When I asked Brooke what her favorite part of the exhibit is, she didn’t hesitate, saying, “It’s vibrant, it’s full of color. Kids have, especially at the elementary age, but even at the high school age, no boundaries. They’re not afraid to do things that we kind of grow out of as we get older.” With this Exhibit, you see those non-restrictions, those risks and the confidence to just create, because many of the kids don’t know how to doubt themselves. (Wouldn’t it be great to unlearn your self-doubt once again?)
Brooke shared that she sees the biggest shift in the kids in about sixth grade. That’s when they start to ask for direction.
“What do I do?”
“How do I do that?”
“Just tell me what to do.”
“I cannot emphasize enough, how important art is in the communities. In that, I’m so lucky to work in a space that’s so creative like this. I feel like kids so much are told what to do and how to do it, especially in the education system. There is a way to do things and a process to do it. Art and any creative outlet–dancing, theatre, music–they allow children to think on their own and outside of “this is how you do it.”
How many kids have you met, little kids–four, five, six, seven years olds–that have told you that they want to be an artist when they grow up? How often do those kids still want to be artists when you ask them again in sixth or seventh grade? So often their answers change because they’re told that they “can’t” be an artist. They have to be a doctor or a scientist or an engineer, if they want to make money and succeed.
The simple truth though, is that art is in everything. Everything the light touches… has been somehow touched by art. The shoes you wear, the buildings around you, the potato peeler in your kitchen drawer, the coffee cup you drink from at your desk, the chair you sit in at home, the label on anything you buy, the movies you watch, the logo of your favorite bottle of wine, the backpack you carry, the music you dance to in your car at the stoplight… Art is ubiquitous. It permeates every aspect of our lives.
In one of my college classes, a class called Architecture, Sustainability and the City, we talked about how in order for anything to sustainable, yes it must have economic, environmental, and ethical value, and it has to have aesthetic value. If you want something to last a long time, to be preserved, it has to be beautiful. Think about the Parthenon, the Mona Lisa, the Great Wall of China, van Gogh’s “A Starry Night,” even our own brick buildings in our downtown. These things have been preserved because the element of art is there. Because we consider them beautiful. Because that makes them valuable.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a very creative family. A family that saw the value of art. A family that celebrated my creativity, and taught me to weave the lessons I learned from art through my entire life. The out-of-the-box thinking, the problem-solving, the joy, the beauty, the confidence, the intuition and the freedom.
If you take anything away from visiting this exhibit, I hope it is that arts education is so important. It is a chance for kids to think for themselves, to learn how to problem solve, to practice independence, and build confidence.
The Young Artist Exhibit will be on display at Art in the Loft on the Third Floor of the Center Building in Downtown Alpena from April 4th to April 27th. There will be two Open House Receptions from 6:00pm-8:00pm on Friday, April 5th and Friday, April 12th. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00am to 6:00pm, and Sunday 12:00pm to 4:00pm. Featured schools are: Besser, Hinks, Wilson, Sanborn, Ella White, Lincoln, Immanuel Lutheran, All Saints, Thunder Bay Junior High, Alpena High School, A.C.E.S. Academy, Hillman, Rogers City, St. John Lutheran, St. Ignatius, Johannesburg-Lewiston, Onaway, Posen, Atlanta, Alcona, and Homeschool & Partnership programs. For more information visit www.artintheloft.org
Kingsli Kraft wrote this article for Blog Downtown Alpena. Kingsli is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in Human Ecology. She enjoys reading, writing, yoga, hiking, caring for all of her plants and trying new recipes. You can follow her on Instagram here.