Creative Partnership

The Art Space launches ambitious arts education program

By Jill Althouse-Wood

Back in December, during a panel discussion with artists at the Wilmington Library, the moderator asked the panelists what they wanted their artistic legacy to be. Local painter, sculptor, and muralist James Wyatt responded that, as his legacy, he wanted to pass the knowledge and importance of art down to the next generation.

His latest project is doing just that. Wyatt, under the umbrella of The Sold Firm which represents his work, is partnering with The Art Studio and The Route 9 Library and Innovation Center for a new program offering the fundamentals of visual arts to creative middle and high school students living in neighborhoods surrounding the Route 9 corridor. Wyatt will be teaching the free 12-week course for 12 teens, ages 13-18, selected through applications and art samples. 

The project, dubbed The Art Space, is the brainchild of Nataki Oliver of the Sold Firm, an agency dedicated to servicing the visual artist, and Nicole Sexton, coordinator for the Art Studio, the art education facility of New Castle County’s Department of Community Services. The two women had joined forces in 2019 and had lined up youth mural projects for the beginning of 2020, but those projects were canceled due to COVID. The connection remained solid through the pandemic, and the pair brainstormed new opportunities for youth in the arts.

“Originally, it was supposed to just be like art classes [for teens], but I wanted it to be course-related, almost like they would get in college,” says Oliver, explaining the genesis of program. “Initially, I wanted to give them four weeks of drawing, four weeks of painting, and then I added four weeks of digital art because right now… [college] programs are integrated with CAD and Procreate [and] those types of programs.”

Wyatt agreed with the proposed curriculum. As a professional artist, he is transitioning into doing more digital art and finding a healthy marketplace for it. And he is quick to squash misconceptions.

“People hear computer and think it is all automated. And it’s not,” Wyatt says. “It’s a tool like a paintbrush or a pencil that you must learn how to use. You have to have your fundamentals and basics — drawing, color theory and all of that — which then translates over to digital.”

“The Art Studio is always looking for new ways to reach and serve our community’s youth,” adds Sexton. “This program is a first of its kind in our area and our goal is to empower participating teens to express how their lives matter by providing a physically and emotionally safe space for them to learn, create and socialize.”

Wyatt acknowledges the classes go beyond technical skills. “There is a lot going on in the world and being able to come and be able to express that through art becomes very therapeutic for people,” he says. “It is important to be able to express it, so you aren’t bottling it up and having it come out in other negative ways. Having a voice is important.”

In addition to free tuition for the lessons, the program provides students with all their art supplies, use of iPads and paid apps, snacks at Readers Café, and the topper — the participants will be paid a stipend upon completion of the program.

 “For kids, especially creative kids, it is important to get that feeling of making money from their art,” says Wyatt. “They need to understand that art has value, and we need to foster that feeling that your talent is a gift and should be rewarded as well.”

In this way, the program’s creators believe it will transcend foundational art lessons to include the much-needed building blocks of professional development, life skills, and entrepreneurship. 

— The Art Space classes will occur Tuesdays from 6-8pm from April 5-June 28 at the Innovation Center at The Route 9 Library and Innovation Center in New Castle. The culmination of the program will be a student-curated gallery exhibit at the library on Tuesday, July 5, from 6-8pm. Student work will be available for purchase. All of proceeds will go to the artists who created the work, reinforcing the theme that our community values its artists.