When Amanda Miller opens the door to one of the youth studios at Sawtooth School for Visual Art, the distinct smells of clay and freshly cut paper flood into the hallway outside.
Miller is the assistant youth director at Sawtooth where she has worked for almost three years.
“We do often find that it goes one way or the other,” she says. “Either the parents find us for the kid or a child finds us through school.”
Sawtooth offers many opportunities for kids of all ages throughout the year, but it’s not the only business catching on to the trend. Many local arts organizations downtown are following Sawtooth’s lead with programs aimed at incorporating kids in the downtown art scene. Word about these programs is spreading and locals like Amber May are starting to take notice.
“I can sip on a glass of wine while my kids color?” asks May. “Great!”
May is a Winston-Salem native who works at a/perture cinema, a local film house downtown that is yet another business invested in the art for kids movement.
“As an arts community, you have to band together to make it in a city and that’s what’s happening here,” May says.
A/perture plays its part in getting the city’s youngest art fans involved by offering vintage cartoons for children on Sundays. May says the program draws in both children and cartoon-loving adults from around the state.
May moved back home to become part of the growing downtown art community. She sees art for kids programs as the perfect way for parents to enjoy downtown without leaving their children at home.
Lawren Desai, the theatre’s owner and curator, is also a co-founder of Second Sundays, a downtown arts program sponsored by local businesses and enjoyed by people of all ages. The second Sunday of each month, Fourth Street is closed off and filled with musicians, vendors and other artists. The program incorporates a spread of activities for children.
“That’s the whole point of Second Sundays,” says Desai. “We wanted it to be a place where you can enjoy a quiet Sunday afternoon with your kids. We want them to have a cultured experience.”
Desai says a/perture’s investment in getting local children interested in film and art goes much further than business benefits.
“As public schools deemphasize art in the curriculum, the community has to take on that role,” she says. “So we’re all stepping up to the plate.”
Like Desai, Amanda Miller and her co-workers at Sawtooth view working with children as a unique opportunity not just for business, but also for the future of the downtown arts community. This is because art for kids isn’t just giving parents a way to bring their children with them downtown, it’s revealing the next generation of artists and aficionados.
Miller points to a painted clay dog on the table.
“This was hand-crafted and glazed by an elementary school student. It could have been made by a 6-year-old,” she says. “It’s more of treating the child as an artist and less as an art student. We want it to become a community sense of ownership.”