Founded in 1986 by art therapist Tamar Hendel, the Create Arts Center in Silver Spring offers a host of different programs, including summer camps, instructional classes, and art therapy for individuals and groups. Most of the programs are for children, but adult classes are also offered through the Studio Downstairs program.
The summer camp programs cost around $495 for a full session and about $295 for a mini session. There are also separate rates for their before-care program that run $25 per week and after-care that run between $80-$150 per session depending on what time a child is picked up.
The center also does a lot of community outreach, working with at-risk youth in nearby elementary and middle schools and offering art therapy classes for adults with mental illness.
Communication Director and art teacher Lauren Schlenger said because the facility was founded by an art therapist, the teaching focus is placed on the process rather than the end result.
“It’s all the basis of using art as a means of expression and being able to grow skills and develop different skills through the art,” she said. “So it’s not just about making your picture, it’s about the process, and the process includes building confidence, building self-esteem, building social skills. All of those things work into it in all of our programs.”
For the at-risk youth classes, kids are selected by school guidance counselors to participate without knowing why they’ve been selected – they just know they’ve been picked, which makes them feel special, said Lauren Lay, the arts education director.
“They’re just in an art club,” Lay said. “So they don’t know they’ve been selected. It’s just a way to get them to open up to have a great experience in art. The question we always ask the kids is ‘Are you proud of what you did?’ because we’re teaching technique and we’re teaching this great art thing, so it’s process over product, but they do end up with something.”
Schlenger says smART Kids, the name of the at-risk youth program, provides one-on-one attention, something that is hard to get during regular school hours. The at-risk youth and all other students are also allowed to complete projects without being graded or heavily critiqued, which is a new experience for many of them.
“I actually had one kid in my smART Kids class last year, all girls fourth and fifth grade group, and I asked what they liked about the club, and her answer was ‘I never done art without getting a grade,’” she said. “I thought that was so powerful, because that’s saying you’re just allowed to make what you want to make.”
Schlenger and Lay said it’s the same philosophy for the special-needs kids, as they’re not only free to create without judgment or a grade; they’re integrated into the camp in a way that makes them feel like all the other kids.
“He said to his mom ‘This is the first time that I didn’t feel like I had Asperger [syndrome],” Lay recalled one of her students saying.
Schlenger said many students, special needs or not, walk into the facility and say they’re not good at art, a perception the instructors obviously try to change. But once those kids find their niche or find a project they really connect with, she said, they immediately open up and gain tremendous confidence.
“Once you find that thing or that project that they’re able to do, it comes pretty naturally. They’re able to go with it and really make it,” Schlenger said.
Lay said the instructors also try to teach the kids that they’re in charge of their art, not their teachers, which they respond well to. Lay said though she doesn’t like to give blind praise of a child’s art work and tries to offer specific instruction, she always praises effort.
V. Kuroji Patrick, who’s been teaching at Create Arts Center for four years, said his favorite part about teaching is reaching brand new students, and he loves when past students remember him and talk about their positive experience.
Create Arts Center also offers volunteer programs for older children that allow them to create art and help the little ones at the same time.
“We have CITs (counselors in training) who are 13 and 14 year olds, who often have been here before and get to take on a little bit more responsibility. But get to do the art as well,” Schlenger said.
The center also works with high school and college volunteers and interns who also come in to help younger students. Schlenger was an intern before she became communications director and a teacher, so there’s a strong desire to promote from within.
The staff members at Create Arts come from various places and were introduced to art in different ways: some are studio artists, some currently teach art classes in schools, some are professionally trained and others are self-taught. Lay said when she interviews teachers she looks for a high skill level in whatever art form that person does and also makes sure they can effectively communicate with the students. Those who make it past the second interview have to a teach class while being observed.
Lay said there is a variety of children that come to the center. Some know a little bit about art beforehand and others don’t. Either way, they have to possess some interest, particularly those attending camp, because they’re creating art all day: one session runs from 9:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. and another one runs from 8:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Regardless of a child’s natural art inclinations, instructors said they reach kids where they are and try to bring out their true potential. Lay and Schlenger also talked about the importance of parents nurturing their child at home, regardless of the type of art.
“Every child always needs to have their art nurtured, whether it’s dance or drama,” Lay said. “Don’t squander that time. I’ve spoken to a lot of adults who [said] nobody nurtured them. They can name the moment where somebody told them that they weren’t good enough.”