When Ruth Marks’ mobile art studio comes to school, her program could be described as multiple choice – but not in the way you might think. Students are given lunch trays to fill with choices from an extensive art supply “buffet”—including glue, popsicle sticks, fabric and more—and then sent off to create something all their own without any specific instructions. From there, the possibilities are endless.
The nature of creativity
The open-ended nature of the projects is what the program’s founder believes makes the experience so valuable for today’s young children.
“Right now education and people are really focused on having the right answer,” said Marks, founder and lead teacher of the FLY Children’s Art Center. “You lose that ability of seeing the possibilities of everything. I think that’s a skill that future generations are really going to need because things are changing so quickly.
FLY is a non-profit organization and offers programs free to various public schools throughout the Ypsilanti and AnnArbor area. Elementary-aged students usually participate during after-school programs where classrooms are turned into temporary art studios. FLY also offers fee-based classes held at local Ann Arbor community centers.
By fostering children’s natural ability to process and see things in different ways,Marks said children can learn to see themselves as problem solvers – an especially important skill in places like Michigan.
“We can’t keep doing things the same way,” she said.
Thinking outside the box
Marks earned her bachelor of fine arts degree and teaching certificate from Eastern Michigan University. She taught in Willow Run and Dearborn schools for nine years before she started FLY.
Though she loved teaching in theschools, Marks said she wasn’t able to fit certain creative or involved projects into the school schedule and sought an outlet with more flexibility. FLY is funded primarily through grants and donations,now visiting about eight schools each week, and is in the process of hiring more staff to meet its growth.
Marks also has a passion for working with underserved populations and believes all children should have the chance to experiment with art.
Sara Bliss, site coordinator of Eastern Michigan University’s Bright Futures program for Marshall Upper Elementary in Westland, has utilized FLY at herschool for about a year and a half.
“It’s an excellent program but still accessible to the at-risk students I serve,” she said. “Ruth continually makes it possible for us to deliver programs to students who really don’t have access.”
Bliss said the program has been hugely popular with her students of all ages.
“My favorite thing about FLY is that it is really open-ended and encourages creativity, creative play and problem solving. When I see the students come back from that club they have all sorts of different projects. They all interpret it in their own way,” she said. “I’ve used it with kids all the way from second to sixth grade, and no matter what age, they all love it.”
Getting children involved in art can also be a confidence booster, according to Marks.
“A lot of the parents mention that their kids are much more confident after participating in the class,” she said. Marks said she believes in the saying that the three things that make people happy are autonomy, mastery and purpose.
“It really speaks to what I see,” she said. “When you give the kids a chance to do something, you’re basically telling them you trust them and you think they can handle it. I think they feel really respected and honored by that.”
Private art classes offered by FLY are popular on weekends and can be an ideal activity after a long week at school, Marks said.
“The kids come in and just relax and do something without that structure that you had all week,” she said.
Marks lives in Ypsilanti with her husband and two children, both of whom share Marks’ love of art.
For more information on FLY or for class times and registration information, visit www.flyartcenter.org