It’s a beautiful spring Friday afternoon in March and teenagers across the metro are pouring out of their respective high schools’ front doors. One would assume they’d rather be anywhere else than stuck inside for another minute.
Not Kellen Rief of Council Bluffs. The 16-year-old Lewis Central sophomore can’t wait to get back inside, to the Kent Bellows Studio on 33rd and Leavenworth Street in Omaha, specifically. He has sculpting to do.
Named for one of America’s great masters of Realism, the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program is funded in part by the Iowa West Foundation through the Joslyn Art Museum. The Joslyn is one of 10 regional arts and culture institutions recently selected by the Foundation to receive multi-year funding to support southwest Iowa outreach. Multi-year funding allows the organizations to receive funding for three years rather than one year, freeing up more time to be spent fulfilling their missions.
“We are dedicated to developing young artists’ “creative capital,” so they can imagine, adapt, invent, and re-think the old ways and become people who can re-frame and change systems creatively,” said Weston Thomson, program director. “To do that we need access to professional artists, art supplies, exhibition space, and support staff. This funding allows us to better provide the full experience to our growing list of students.”
Currently, approximately 75 students per semester from high schools including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Kanesville, Lewis Central, and Treynor work alongside their mentors/professional artists to create art. They dabble in mediums include painting, sculpture, mixed media, printmaking, murals, fashion, music, ceramics, digital arts, gallery, and photography. Even the bathroom walls here are a canvas for the teen artists and are a form for expression.
Rief has been coming on Wednesdays and Friday afternoons since the summer after his 8th-grade year. Though soft-spoken, the program has bolstered his confidence and brought him out of his shell.
“For many of our students, they don’t necessarily have a community of people like them at school,” Thomson said. “But here, they have that community.”
Research shows strong links between arts education and cognitive development such as problem-solving and information processing. According to the National Endowment of the Arts, involvement in the arts, regardless of students’ socioeconomic status, is linked to higher academic performance, increased test scores, more community service, and lower dropout rates. Data collected by the Iowa West Foundation showcases the impact of Joslyn’s Kent Bellows Mentoring Program.
Kent Bellows students saw their average GPAs increase .2 points while the number of missed class periods decreased to half as many of their peers. District averages indicate 70 percent of students are proficient in math and 68 percent are proficient in reading. Kent Bellows students are 100 percent proficient in both math and reading.
Mentor Jesse Ross is not surprised by that and notes the Kent Bellows students are passionate about learning the fundamentals of art and are driven to build their portfolios. When a young man tracks him down in the studio to ask for help, Ross said students in his college-level courses wouldn’t have done that.
“Here, they are really motivated,” Ross said. “There are no assignments. They work on what inspires them and when they run into impediments, we help them using a mixture of instruction and facilitation. It’s a good balance between freedom and support.”
Each student is also required to write an artist’s statement, conduct research on their medium of study and talk about their art projects in front of their peers. The program is all about learning to try new things, and that’s evident in Rief’s closing remark.
“Before I wasn’t even considering art school,” he said. “Now I’m considering becoming an artist.”
Kent Bellows would approve.
Phantazein: Joslyn’s Kent Bellows Mentoring Program Young Artist Exhibition
Joslyn’s Kent Bellows Mentoring Program Teen Salon:
When: Thursday, April 26th, 6:30 p.m. in the Witherspoon Hall at Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge Street
The Teen Salons feature original music, fashion, and animations produced by teens in our artist mentoring programs. This unique event is a special opportunity for our students to showcase their work and performances to a live audience, and help build their confidence and professional experience.
Applications for Summer 2018 are due by April 2.