Illinois Art Station: New Program Inspires Children Through Art – News


It was a word. But that was enough.

The setting was on a Friday morning last fall in Milestones

Early Learning Center in Bloomington. The place of autism (TAP) ran its half-day program for preschoolers and hosted two Illinois Art Station (IAS) educators through a collaboration between the two Illinois State University affiliates.

One of those instructors was Mary Smyers, a graduate student in speech-language pathology. She placed a cardboard plate with two separate balls of red and white paint on a table in front of a girl wearing pink-rimmed glasses. A few minutes earlier, the girl was walking around the classroom as a teacher from TAP kindly encouraged her to participate in the reading time. Now she stood still and looked at the plate. Smyers rolled a small toy truck over the paint, mixing the two colors.

“We paint,” Smyers told the girl. “Red and white make pink.” The girl started to clap and said, “Pink! “

This brief response was enough to satisfy TAP Director Karla Doepke. The girl rarely spoke, and classes for young children with autism should encourage them to engage and communicate, said Doepke, who is also an associate professor of psychology. Art educators at IAS have been fulfilling this mission since the weekly art segments began earlier in the month, engaging students in a range of art activities such as creating dinosaur egg sculptures and masks. paint.

“My goals are to capitalize on the unique power of the visual arts to reach and inspire our children and youth in all their diversity and to deepen their understanding of themselves, their community and their world at large. “—Laura Berk

“The (artistic program) gives them another way to express themselves,” Doepke said.

The TAP class is just one of many partnerships the IAS has forged over the past year as the innovative program takes root at Illinois State University and reaches out to children and youth in the surrounding community. . The organization is the brainchild of Professor Emeritus of Psychology Laura Berk. She has provided seed funding for IAS since its inception in 2016.

Berk had conducted groundbreaking research into the importance of play in childhood and wanted to create a space that fuses the visual arts with child development. The IAS is inspired by established programs like the Children’s Museum of Arts in New York and the Bronzeville Children’s Museum on the South Side of Chicago.

“My goals are to capitalize on the unique power of the visual arts to reach and inspire our children and youth in all their diversity and to deepen their understanding of themselves, their community and their world at large,” said said Berk.

The IAS hired Isra El-beshir as its director. El-beshir was previously curator of education and public programming at the Arab American National Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian. She said the IAS offers an exciting prospect that is lacking in McLean County.

“We have an active arts community,” El-beshir said. “On the other hand, when it comes to visual arts programming for young people, especially teenagers and children under 5, we seem to be lacking compared to our neighbors in the big cities, and that’s a good problem for us. By working in tandem with our community anchors like the Children’s Discovery Museum and the McLean County Arts Center, we can build on each other’s strengths and deliver a plethora of exciting programs that blend artistic creation with social justice, art therapy. and child development, resulting in a strong arts education program that reflects the diversity, capabilities and potential of our community.

The IAS will be the first in McLean County to provide children and youth aged 18 and under a hands-on, interdisciplinary visual arts experience based on pedagogy and scholarship for the State of Illinois and the community at large.

Illinois Art Station is headed by Professor Emeritus Laura Berk, Peggy Finnegan-Boyes,
and Isra El-Bashir.

At this point, the Illinois Art Station is still evolving towards its name. The organization’s two trustees – El-beshir and education curator Peggy Finnegan-Boyes, MS ’08, along with four graduate students and an intern – operate from the temporary Williams Hall headquarters.

Art educators travel from the workshops of the IAS in a van issued by the university, painted in bright colors and bearing the name of the organization. For now, the IAS is running free art workshops for children and youth in collaboration with various community partners, such as TAP, Bloomington and Normal Public Libraries, Western Avenue Community Center, and the Boys and Girls Club. from Bloomington-Normal.

For the IAS to fully realize its mission and vision, it needs its own space, El-beshir said. The organization is working to secure a 10,000 square foot facility within a 10-minute walk of the Illinois state campus. There, the IAS would continue to expand its partnerships with the community and would also offer studio art classes, art exhibitions and become an innovative space for immersive learning in the visual arts.

“This will be a great think tank for people on campus who are interested in the development and well-being of children,” said Judith Briggs, IAS Advisory Board member and associate professor of arts education .

El-beshir envisions a space where artists would conduct classes involving all visual arts, be it animation, ceramics, film or painting. IAS courses would also go further by making concerted efforts to reach underserved populations, offering scholarships and tuition assistance, addressing community social issues, and taking a multidisciplinary approach that empowers children and young people to mix the arts with STEM disciplines. “Our mission is to provide all children, youth and their families with transformative visual arts experiences. We want to build on our mission and provide a space that aims to educate, inspire and challenge, ”El-beshir said.

The program fills an important role previously occupied by School of Art faculty and students who have volunteered their services to local organizations, Briggs said. “We didn’t have enough time to meet this great need. This is a great opportunity to expand the community reach of the UIS.

One of the first highlights of Art Station’s lineup, which kicked off last summer, was a mural project for the Town of Bloomington Citizens’ Beautification Committee. For three days, 12 middle school and high school students worked alongside artist and Illinois State Graduate Jeremy Langston, MFA ’18, to paint a mural along the Constitution Trail underpass under Washington Street.

The IAS has also partnered with Illinois State’s First Star Academy, which prepares foster youth for college. Twenty high school students attended an IAS printmaking workshop and then exhibited their work at the Transpace Gallery in the State of Illinois.

These projects are important means of reaching underserved communities, El-beshir said. “There are a number of social services in our community that house, feed, educate and clothe, but there are no visual arts programs designed to incite joy, creativity, resilience and empowerment that can help cope with, overcome trauma, improving emotional well-being and giving a voice to those who feel speechless or ignored.

The Illinois Art Station also provides opportunities for community engagement and real-world teaching experiences to Illinois State students employed as graduate assistants. Besides Smyers, there are two students in Arts Education and one in Arts Technology Program.

Finnegan-Boyes develops the workshops and trains students on how to teach the materials and interact with children at different stages of development. It brings together students from different specialties in order to promote learning, not only for the youth of the community, but also for the students of the State of Illinois. For example, Smyers taught the TAP class with Brooke Ball, a master’s student in arts education.

Finnegan-Boyes learned to create an interdisciplinary curriculum while teaching art for eight years at Metcalf School. “We try to be interdisciplinary so that ISU students can learn from each other and enhance the experience of young people in the community,” she said.

Mary Smyers is one of the state of Illinois graduate students teaching visual arts to children and youth at the new Illinois Art Station.
Mary Smyers is one of the state of Illinois graduate students teaching visual arts to children and youth at the new Illinois Art Station.

Smyers said she thinks about students’ sensory needs when leading activities in the TAP classroom. She and Ball encouraged preschoolers to get their hands dirty and play with paint. Instructors don’t try to create mini-Picassos; instead, they offer children the opportunity to learn about different art media and create their own work.

Briggs said these art classes are important because they are project-based, which helps students who can learn better by doing. Art experiences can draw on many disciplines such as English, Mathematics and Science. “There are a lot of critical thinking skills that go into creating works of art. Art is an all-encompassing discipline. We see our young artists as researchers.

Ball learned a lot about working with children with autism while teaching with Smyers and how to develop a dialogue with other teachers, community organizations and students through the classes she taught for IAS.

“I think these kids are lucky to have this intensive, caring and structured program,” Ball said. “Visual communication and visual literacy are a way for many of us to communicate. Images are everywhere.

As the Illinois Art Station finds its place in Bloomington-Normal, innovative art programming for children and youth will also become ubiquitous.

To be involved

Illinois State students, community organizations, and artists who wish to get involved with Illinois Art Station can contact [email protected] or (309) 438-4444.

For more information on the Illinois Art Station, visit or follow Illinois Art Station on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Deborah Fox, associate dean for external relations at the College of Arts and Sciences, contributed to this story.

Kevin Bersett can be contacted at [email protected]


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