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Molding a better future: Art Transforms provides free art courses to Johnson City youth

Mackenzie Moore • Jun 17, 2018 at 5:05 PM

Young students snagged the opportunity to master art with professional artists in a two-week summer program funded by Art Transforms, a nonprofit organization that provided clay and storytelling camps to students at Indian Trail Intermediate School.

Art Transforms has been providing these courses since 2014, serving more than 200 grade-school students. This year, the program sponsored Indian Trail’s summer school bunch, SuperKids, in a quest to mold better futures with clay and storytelling. Two-week courses were offered to students, which was an extension from past years’ one-week camps.

Originally, the art courses were held at Indian Trail, but due to electricity problems, the summer curriculum relocated to Liberty Bell Middle School for the remainder of the program.

Brooke Velsor, an art teacher at Liberty Bell, has been with Art Transforms since its launch, giving her the opportunity to witness the difference art can make in the lives of malleable youngsters and the excitement of an expanding program.

“This gives them a sense of responsibility for their work,” Velsor said. “To receive the grants to make these programs possible makes all the difference. I’ve noticed a tremendous difference. This year, with the extra grant earnings, we were able to bring in other artists, teachers and hands available to help.

“It raises the children’s self-esteem to be able to be successful at creating something. It teaches them how to take charge of their own work.”

Art Transforms is funded by the Tennessee Art Commission and local businesses to hire contract artists to teach children skills that go beyond clay-molding or storytelling. Students grasp concepts that help them both in and outside the classroom.

“When you’re younger, you haven’t developed all those neurological pathways for fine motor skills,” Don Burger, a professional potter and clay class instructor, said. “You can see they’re having to focus on details here.”

Without sponsorship from the state’s art commission and local businesses, these camps provided by Art Transforms wouldn’t exist. Brian Mills, the program’s founder, explained that receiving grants and sponsorships isn’t a simple endeavor. The program must serve an important role and benefit a number of people.

“The most important criteria to receive funding for this program is how it improves the lives of the participants and how it makes a difference to the community,” Mills said. “It’s not about simply coming up with an art project. We would like to expand in the future, but it’s all a question of funding.”

A large portion of the Tennessee Art Commission’s funding stems from the Specialty License program. When consumers purchase these plates, 40 percent of the proceeds go toward grant money for the Tennessee Arts Commission, which funds art programs such as Art Transforms statewide. The commission awarded $5.2 million in grants in 2017, with $4.5 million of those awards from the Specialty License program. 

Art Transforms was approved for another grant for 2019, and with the continuance of funds, the program will continue to inspire children to channel their creativity and learn skills that will follow them as they grow.

“Our mission is really to help individuals no matter who they are,” Mills said. “We believe art have the power to transform.”

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