Clear Boundaries. No Limits

Clear boundaries; no limits. This is a good mantra for teaching art to kids living in challenging circumstances. For kids living in shelters, subsidized housing, group homes or foster care the Des Moines Art Center is a place with clear boundaries where the imagination can soar. For kids with gender identity issues, developmental disabilities or mental illness, art has something to offer.

Art is unique in requiring that hands and mind be in the same place. Distraction and anxiety are at the forefront of challenges for Des Moines Art Center Outreach students. Art class provides opportunities for quiet, focus and mindfulness.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love putting marks on paper, canvas, coloring books or the underside of our kitchen table. Some of my best childhood memories are of the arts—theater, dance, music, but mostly painting and drawing. Outreach kids approach classes with apathy, or worse fear.

At its core art is about taking things in—really sensing them—rolling them around inside you and expressing your response. Success in the Outreach Program isn’t measured by composition or the rendering of a subject, but in the students’ response to their art and the art in the galleries. As they engage with paint, ink, clay and fabric, anxiety gives way to concentration. As they put marks on paper or mold a mask from plaster gauze they develop a sense of pride in their work. Success comes with balance between clear boundaries and the stretch beyond them.

Bobbie often “finishes” a project before the rest of class. watercolor and acrylic paints are his go-to resources for down time. He learns about color, tools, applying paint. his face shows pride, self-judgment and willingness to keep going.

Goldsworthy Shelter Building

Goldsworthy Shelter Building

Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers and Tides inspires boys to build their own shelters in the woods by the Art Center. Using dead branches, stone and tile, then crawling inside, climbing over. Boys who have lost their homes create their own.

A difficult-to-engage students teaches the class to make puppets. She

brings the pattern; I bring my sewing machine. The Art Center provides the rest. Josie takes the risk to express her creativity and just have fun.

Pillbox hats at the Art Center

Pillbox hats at the Art Center

Matisse, Warhol and Halston show kids that art is not just about making a pretty picture. Time in the galleries provides opportunities to put thoughts and feelings into words without judgment. Follow with collage, printmaking, dress up and millinery. Art is everywhere.

Tyler is about to return to his home, sorry he won’t be in art class any more. encouraged to continue, he overflows with opportunities he’s already explored—a street painting project, art classes in his new school. No more the young man who didn’t want to draw in his sketchbook.

Clear boundaries; no limits—a good mantra for teaching art to kids in challenging circumstances.

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