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Dynamics of a mobile art center, an art education business approach.
This paper will explore the facets of a mobile small business CBAE model. Included are the background dynamics of the entity and it’s practitioners, effects on students, parents, community and the concern of addressing those with special needs who come to participate. This is useful research in furthering the study of CBAE practices while providing informative accounts and questions beneficial to those interested in CBAE generally and as an arts business enterprise. Specifically, this case study documents the mobile art educational business called the Artist Hub in Ocala, Florida, its operations at the Hobby Lobby, a national chain art supply store and The Brick City Center for the Arts, a local community based gallery space.
In Arts education & Arts-Based Economic Development: Sound Investments for Business & Community, Former Crayola, Binney & Smith CEO, Richard Gurin (1998) asserts that businesses are vital within an arts framework. As well, Gurin clearly honors the value of arts education and its affects on community, the individual and society (pp. 28-29). In speaking to art educators, Gurin instills the importance for collaboration between businesses, CBAE agencies, schools, educators and professionals throughout art education for advocacy, sustainability and practice. Interaction with art environments, albeit by city planning, private business, art and educational spaces can enhance aspects of tourism and engagement while stimulating communities socially and economically (p. 30).
In, What is community based art education? (2005), J. Ulbricht defines public art, ethnographic and the local/cultural learning categories of CBAE. As a result, Ulbricht summarizes that CBAE provides opportunities for “enhanced skill development, collaboration, communication and empowerment,” (p.11) among teachers and members of the community. By clarifying community based art education definitions and objectives, teachers and CBAE participants can envision meaningful and enriching educational programs (p. 11).
Ryan Shin explores important benefits and concerns of franchised businesses in art education. In his article, The Business of Art Education: Friend or Foe? (2012), Shin spends considerable time implementing suggestions that could improve the quality of CBAE art education and cites critical needs for symbiotic relationships between CBAE businesses, schools and art educators. Shin further suggests professional art educators offer community based educational programs of their own or partner in the training and/or certification of employees within franchised art educational centers (p. 37). Shin advocates utilizing budding college educated art teachers who can provide franchises with skilled employees, and in turn gain exposure to art enterprise, while honing their educational approaches. Shin aims that building useful relationships will also enrich art educational programing throughout (p. 38).
Overview of the Program
The Artist Hub is owned in partnership between husband and wife, Rafael and Sheila Ramos. Connie Ferreira has also taught alongside Sheila since the beginning of the business ten years ago. Sheila describes her mission statement as such; “The Artist Hub is a creative learning center for children 2 years old to 102 years old and where we focus on many different mediums. Everyone should have the chance to enjoy art and to create art so we keep our prices minimal.” Sheila ensures charges have remained the same for classes since her opening in 2004 with hourly and monthly sessions ranging from $15.00 to $40.00 and $80.00 for weeklong summer camps.
The Artist Hub receives no grants or funding. Sheila keeps the business alive through class fees, teaching part time at a private school, a Montessori school and in working with home school agencies. Some of Sheila’s work experiences connect families and students to The Artist Hub classes. Sheila previously owned a building to house her classes, however, she and Connie have been mobile for the last seven years. Sheila feels mobility is beneficial, flexible and enables her to utilize more mutually convenient locations. She has lower overhead costs by accessing existing spaces.
Persona of Facilitators
Sheila Ramos and Connie Ferreira both worked for Central Florida College in the Cultural Arts and Continuing Education programs. Sheila indicated having a background in business while Connie comes from a nursing career with education in the medical and scientific fields. Both have no formal art degrees, although, Sheila explained she takes the educational value of her business seriously. She sees intrinsic qualities in offering people opportunities to explore art creation, mediums, display work and connect with others in art environments. Sheila noted the supportive efforts of her daughter, now a high school senior, and her husband as valuable in running a sustainable business. Ashley Ramos often helps with preparation and teaching while Rafael attends to business responsibilities outside of the teaching practice.
Connie Ferrara did not take art classes until she was in her late thirties. Ironically, her first adult art class was in the evenings at Forest High School, Ocala, Florida. The 1980’s CBAE utilized the school space. Connie trained under local legend and art educator, Jack Thursby. Thursby served for 25 years within the Ocala college system (Patton, 2014).
Connie attributes Thursby as strongly influential to her ongoing art practice. Additionally, Connie applies experiences from previously living in Portugal, her medical background and scientific studies when teaching art. Connie paints naturalistic scenes and practices an art form called “Zentangles” in her spare time (Zentangle, 2014).
Reporting: Parents and Students
As I drove up to Hobby Lobby on State Road 200 in Ocala, the parking lot teemed with vehicles. I walked calmly through bustling isles filled with crafts and home accents to the back of the store along a wall near the framing department. Entering a small, mostly plain walled room, I could see one student busily painting while seated at a table. Sheila greeted me with a big smile and informed me that four families had canceled this evening. Across from Sheila sat the mother of the lone student, looking at her phone, who then pleasantly greeted me. I began chatting with the mother, who had only positive remarks about The Artist Hub and the attention her son was receiving. Like a lot of Sheila’s clientele, Linda Cahill is a working mom. Linda indicated keeping her 5th grade son occupied and active is important. She noted the infrequency of the current art program at her son’s public school and went on to say that her son chose The Artist Hub classes rather than other after school activities. Her son has had work featured in scholastic art shows and been recognized on campus for artistic merits. He is excited about art, often drawing in his free time. Linda plans to enroll him in summer classes at The Artist Hub.
Interestingly, Linda sited a familial history of her grandfather and mother being involved in music. Growing up, Linda had frequent art classes attending school in N.Y. and Linda’s mother enrolled her in private violin lessons as a child. Despite transportation in a bigger city, Linda recalled that for her mother, “Distance was not an issue.” Linda added her busy schedule is also “not an issue” when it comes to her son attending classes at The Artist Hub.
Sheila and Linda communicated that through art education, people learn to do things for themselves, benefiting from hands on experiences. At one point during our conversation, I overheard teacher Connie Ferreira, explaining to the youngster how water will seek the lowest level in natural environments. Connie instructed her student on painting his river as it cascaded down the mountain scape into the valley below. Evident here are teachable moments of great value that can provide students with a chance to understand art and the world around them in new and enriched ways.
Throughout the next two weeks, I visited five more children’s classes hosted at the Artist Hub and the Hobby Lobby. Attendance ranged from five to six students, pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. For the younger participants, Sheila facilitated lessons centered around watercolor painting on preprinted imagery. Connie guided slightly older youth in painting acrylic landscapes on partially pre-sketched/painted canvases. As younger students explored watercolor painting processes, the elders learned about acrylic under painting and stroke techniques. The children were instructed to use a blow dryer to aide with layering colors and completing their project in time to take home. Some children worked consecutively over a few sessions on their acrylic paintings. Generally, the children were socializing, laughing and there was little need for behavior modification. Sheila and Connie continually encouraged student work with positive affirmations.
The parents were generally warm and friendly. Some commented on having to retrieve siblings from other school activities and in one case, a student had dance lessons after their time at the Artist Hub. Two parents shopped during the class sessions as both displayed items for purchase from the host, Hobby Lobby.
During the study, two students of upper elementary school age became an interest to me. Both were females under Connie’s tutelage. Attending different sessions, the two students displayed similar behaviors, appearing very introverted and at times withdrawn. I observed both at times “drifting off” and staring in some instances rather than painting. Connie would politely re-direct and the students would comply, however, they both were non-verbal during their entire sessions. They remained quiet around other students including when they interacted with their parents. One student attends a public school known for specializing in ESE education, including those with autistic, developmental and physical disabilities. Both parents offered no specific indications of ESE concerns for either student, however, given my observations and later, triangulation with Connie, we both agreed there could be some unaddressed issues.
This leads me to wonder if there may be gaps in the ability of community based art education to identify and subsequently meet the needs of students with ESE classifications. This indicator contrasts when compared to the plethora of resources within inclusion based public school systems. Nationally, there are numerous CBAE agencies providing specialized art education to those with developmental, medical or psychological concerns. However, teaching students with these attributes can become challenging for CBAE programs that are isolated, ill equipped, localized and servicing generalized populations. Established agencies, professionals and art educators can be instrumental in the development and refinement of common CBAE practices.
Reflection of Children’s Studies
Overall, it appears the clientele families esteem art education as important. They are willful to make provision economically and with their time to ensure their children receive the benefits of additional arts training. Furthermore, as evidenced above and throughout my study, individuals who demonstrate having a familial and personal history of positive art experience may better appreciate contributions art education provides. These supporters may be our volunteers, advocates and in Connie’s case, teachers, within the community. Participants in turn become a resource for art and art education.
Leaders, Community Members, Business and Social Connections
As children’s classes end on a Friday afternoon, Sheila has periodically checked in with Rafael on her cellphone. Rafael is five miles away at The Brick City Center for the Arts in downtown Ocala. He is moving tables, setting up supplies and wine glasses that will be painted by the adults in attendance tonight. Sheila and Connie gather their materials and head to their cars. I follow and we all meet again at “The Brick.”
The Brick City Center for the Arts is operated by The Marion Cultural Alliance, (MCA). It is an affluent gallery space allowing local artist to display and sell their work. They host art classes charging fees to the facilitators. Tonight’s classes are populated by a mother and daughter, Jennifer and Julia, a practicing painter, Linda and two other females who chose work with Connie’s polymer clay session, rather than paint wine glasses. Gallery director, Paula Millhorn and local artist, Diane Cahal, help facilitate operations at The Brick and The MCA. They sit at a table, greeting students and speaking with Sheila.
As I first spoke with Paula and Diane they asserted that The Brick serves many functions within the community. They see artwork and arts education as factors among the various opportunities the facility provides. They emphasized the social aspects of center as a central place for people to congregate and exchange ideas.
The students I interviewed that night echoed the importance of social connection through the arts. Jennifer and her daughter Julia noted the importance of spending family time together during their session. While chatting, Jennifer recalled a childhood memory of taking classes at an art museum in Coral Gables, Florida. She became growingly excited, nostalgic and smiled as she remembered the environment and her fascination with the space, “I thought they had everything at the art museum!” Jennifer expressed she feels one can lose artistic abilities if not practiced and noted classes through the Artist Hub have “re-inspired” her to be creative.
Sitting near Jennifer and Julia is Linda. She is a painter and usually portrays personal scenes of her grandchildren and relatives. Her painting skills are above average, capturing likenesses well. Linda appears to have studied in some capacity at an academic level; however, she states formal training is not the case. Similarly to those aforementioned, Linda too says she came back to art later in life. She commented that coming to events like wine glass painting at The Brick offers her opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with other likeminded appreciators of art and artists.
Implications for the field of Art Education and Research
In all, this case study paints an informative picture, describing some dynamics of a specific private mobile art small business. In so doing, I encountered the ability of this CBAE to help youth and adults develop skills and an appreciation in the arts. Participants engaged in positive and transformative experiences. The research identified how CBAE can re-inspire adults in art practice, encourage healthy family relationships, personal growth and stimulate local culture and economy. This business model of CBAE benefits practicing artist with creative outlets and weaves itself throughout with other agencies. The research identified the advantages of mobility and networking with retail host and community based locations. The research supports how community based centers promote, advocate and expand art experience.
Yet questions remain. How can CBAE address issues in dealing with ESE populations providing more informed content and services? What is the importance of facilitators not certified or experienced in formal arts education? How can professional educators contribute practical insight to CBAE? With the popularity of social media and culture, are socially oriented spaces a lead for future development of CBAE centers, programs and even schools? Lastly, How can stakeholders collectively strengthen CBAE arts in their unique locales? The answers to these questions are diverse and we stand far from absolutes. However, as we gain understanding in art education alongside our students, it behooves us to continue the search for these answers and more. If we do so, we can enrich CBAE, our communities and many lives within the process.
Gurin, R. (1998). Arts education & arts-based economic development: Sound investments for business & community. International Journal of Art Design Education, 17(1), 27-33. doi:10.1111/1468-5949.00102