ArtSpring youth program yields rich results

Exhibition set for Feb. 14, 17 and 18 

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A free arts enrichment program offered annually by ArtSpring is getting ready to share its 2020 project results with the community. 

Islanders can see how local youth have transformed things like used envelopes, juice tin lids and cardboard into amazing artworks during three exhibition dates starting this Friday, Feb. 14.

This year the program is being run by someone with a special connection to the facility:  maintenance manager Erin Cleal. Cleal also happens to be a studio artist who has made a lifelong practice of creating art with materials that might otherwise be discarded. Her distinct collage style employs bold graphic elements and an almost seamless cutting and glueing technique that belies the constructed nature of the work. She has been sharing some of her trade secrets with a dozen or so students from grades 3 to 7 who have joined the three-week ArtSpring program.

As someone who grew up without a lot of material excesses, Cleal’s goal has always been to not let lack of money get in the way of creating, a message she hopes to pass on to her students. 

“I’ve been a collector and a saver of things forever, and I just thought I’d share it with them,” she said. 

During childhood Cleal was allowed to keep up to three large paper bags of materials for her projects at a time. She encourages using cereal boxes for card stock and often finds images from damaged and discarded children’s books. Other materials she brought in for the ArtSpring workshops were scraps of printed words, maps, sheet music and wrapping paper. 

“I save everything,” Cleal confirmed, adding her family members regularly send her packages of the metal ends from frozen juice concentrate. 

Those finished-edge disks are the perfect mount for collaged fridge magnets, which is one of the projects she’s had students undertake. They’ve also made wall hangings using office supplies and a set of unique greeting cards. This past Friday they were about to launch into a giant group painting on the corrugated cardboard sheets covering their work tables. (Cleal saved the packaging from those very tables for the workshop.)

In addition to teaching kids how to make art without spending a lot of money on supplies, Cleal’s techniques offer an accessible entry into art-making for those who may not have developed graphic skills.

“I started doing collage because I can say what I want to say through these other images. Not everybody can draw the perfect butterfly, but they can put the perfect butterfly on their art piece,” Cleal said.

Art pieces produced during the past few weeks will be on display at ArtSpring over the Family Day weekend from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17, plus Tuesday, Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 12, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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