In Kaimuki, a place for kids to express themselves through art

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Kids talk about their art projects with a volunteer at the Art Explorium in Kaimuki. The nonprofit offers classes and open studio hours.

I was going through my daughter’s kindergarten back-to-school packet recently and saw her class schedule for the year. There were weekly classes for technology, physical education, music, and — wait, no art class? Oh no, I thought. There’s no art class.

My 5-year-old daughter is constantly drawing: fairies, her family, animals, just about anything really. She’s driving me nuts with the pieces of paper everywhere, but I love that she’s expressing her creativity.

When I picked her up after the first day of school, she was so excited to show me a picture she drew and asked me if there would be more drawing in her class. I told her the only thing I could think of: She should pay attention to find out.

But inside, I was panicking a little. I wanted my daughter to have this outlet, and if she wasn’t going to get it at school, where would she get it?

That’s when I called Art Explorium, a small, kid-centered art studio in Kaimuki that has drop-in hours and offers various classes during the day, after school, and on weekends.

Why we need more art programs

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The Art Explorium on Waialae Avenue is busy on weekdays and weekends, giving kids access to fun, creative play. The nonprofit says its filling a need in the community.

Because I wanted to learn more about this nonprofit, I spoke with Art Explorium’s executive director Heather Williams. She said the innovative center fills a growing need.

“It started with a chat amongst friends on how a lot of art programs are being cut in Hawaii due to the lack of funding and how our schools don’t encourage enough creativity,” she said. “To help fulfill a need for artistic expression, Art Explorium was created.”

Located off of Waialae Avenue, Art Explorium runs on funding from the Terasaki Family Foundation, along with other private donors and a lot of donated, recycled materials. It started with just an open space; but it’s since been filled with bright and inviting furniture and, of course, lots of art materials. To me, it was perfect — a colorful, dreamy space for my inventive girl.

Heather told me it’s a shame that, these days, fewer schools have art classes because of funding cuts and because they’re having to meet so many new standards. The sad reality is that many of Hawaii’s children have very limited access to art classes. How will these children learn to think creatively or solve problems? What will happen to the children who struggle with subjects like math and English, but excel in art? How will they find their way in the world?

The absence of art isn’t just concerning the folks at Art Explorium. Lots of leading educators have questioned the wisdom of doing away with these creative opportunities for kids, including Sir Ken Robinson, who has lectured and written extensively about what schools need to do to foster creativity rather than stifle it. He’s a fascinating and funny speaker, and if you have a few minutes you should check out his “Do schools kill creativity?” talk on YouTube.

What Art Explorium offers

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Kids gather for an art lesson at the Art Explorium. The Kaimuki nonprofit offers a range of programming for babies to adolescents.

I had the Art Explorium studio on my “to do with my daughter” list because they offer open studio time Saturdays 1-4 p.m. for only $5 a person. The nonprofit also offers more structured workshops. For Being808, I visited on a Thursday at 10:30 a.m., during a storytelling event with Margaret, one of a handful of volunteers at the Art Explorium. She was very animated, reading a story about zoo animals, and the toddlers were eating it up. Later, she did a few songs and parachute play, and ended the lesson with an art project in which she asked the kids to draw zoo animals behind bars.

Another volunteer, Aunty Lani, visits monthly and uses items that would normally be thrown away. The studio encourages sustainable art and most of what is used there are re-purposed materials.

During open studio hours at the center, kids can come and create things from materials in different stations around the room. On the morning I visited, kids at a “sculpture” station were creating beach scenes with all sorts of materials. At another station, kids were decorating Starbucks paper sacks.

Art Explorium also offers popular sewing classes for kids 6 and up, along with after-school classes. For example, on Thursday afternoons there is a themed art class exploring art around the world.

A place for art

Giving kids time to explore their artistic side has been deemed a secondary aim for schools, behind the core subjects. But in the push to cram more learning into the school, let’s not forget that children benefit when they can express themselves. Ever notice that preschoolers naturally move, dance, draw, act out scenes, make up imaginary lands and people with ease? We should be feeding that creativity every day in little ways.

That’s a message I’m embracing as a parent, and one that the Art Explorium is living. They’ve found a way to give kids a space dedicated to art, where they can use their imagination and create their own little masterpieces. If you have the time, I’d urge you to visit with your child.

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