Teen Art Club
PHOTO BY SARAH BAUGH
BY JIANNA JUSTICE
n a particularly drizzly Friday night, I found myself in the back room of Kristen Ashley Artist shop, one of downtown’s tucked-away gems, attending Hope Hilton’s Teen Art Club. For the past year, Hilton, a renaissance woman and staple in the Athens art community, and a small group of teen artists have been meeting every week for two hours to discuss and create all things art. Upon entering the peach-painted room, there was an undeniable warmth and vibrancy in the air. Neutral Milk Hotel hummed off of Hilton’s speakers as she passed out fresh, dustrose flowers to each student, asking them to paint the lightest color pink visible in their notebooks. The students began with a confident ease, while Hilton read aloud a letter that contemporary artist André Bradley had written the class, responding to a package of poems they had previously sent him. My personal memories of highschool art are dismal and mostly consist of structured lessons in basic color theory and still-life paintings, which always turned out more dead than alive. I asked the students how Hilton’s course differs from those of their school’s, and was surprised to find most of the kids don’t take any art at school. The one’s who did all responded similarly. “I don’t like how structured art in school is. Art should be creative,” said teen art club member Hana Chaney. “Yeah, we don’t get to do stuff this creative at my high school. [Hilton] always asks us to do something random, and I’m at first like why would I do that, and then it ends up being something so fun,” added another member, Eve Houser. Perhaps this is because Hilton refuses to be prescriptive in her teaching, but rather lets each lesson engage in a dialogue with the kids; ultimately letting their interests mold the course. “We don’t focus on technique unless they ask for it,” said Hilton. "We call it an exploration.” It’s hard to tell whether the students or Hilton are the most remarkable part of the class, but I’m fairly certain it’s the compliment of the two. Hilton effervescent energy has created a truly sacred space in which kids feel safe to create and converse without the pressures of parents or institutions telling them who or what to be. The Teen Club artists are a breath of fresh air from every stodgy journalist’s banal depiction of the Facebook obsessed, absent minded millennial. The students, who range from ages thirteen to sixteen are unbelievably inquisitive and creative — these traits become fully visible in their finished art pieces. 22
I asked the students what their favorite lesson had been, and they immediately chimed in. “I liked when we picked fortunes from a bowl and then had to draw whatever was on the fortune,” said Eve Houser. “The first class I had here I ended up watercoloring an entire dragon face and I didn’t even think I liked watercolor,” said Camille CastilloStickney. “I made a zine about all of the songs that broke my heart,” said Zak Osenberg. In the two hours I spent with the class, Hilton effortlessly shifted from asking the kids to decode SMS lingo like “WBU” to discussing the feminist and artistic revolution of Georgia O’Keefe and showing the evolution of Picasso’s work from sketch into full mural. She has tapped into the ethos of both teendom and artistry, revealing something undeniably special. After class, I got a chance to speak with Hilton and get a better insight into the magical operation that is Teen Art Club. Ampersand: From my current understanding, Teen Art Club was born as a natural response to decreased funding of the arts in local schools. Can you give me an idea of the current climate in Athens regarding the arts in schools? Hope Hilton: I would say it was honestly born out of my desire to see independent and critical thinking in the arts and to move beyond projects that all have a similar end result. I love problem solving and like to invest in that culture. Athens has some pretty incredible art teachers in the public schools that I know and respect. I felt like creating a space for exploration of ideas was essential to compliment what is happening at schools, which in Athens, I have to say, is exceeding what is happening in other parts of Georgia. I’m not sure if any cuts have been made in the arts here but ... I do know that materials budgets are not what they used to be. I would be remiss to say that there are so many amazing and talented teens in Athens that I also thought it would be incredible to have them all meet one another in a safe space that celebrated and encouraged their ideas and exploration. &: How did Teen Art Club begin? Was it a group effort or a singular idea brought into fruition? HH: I’ve been teaching at Treehouse Kid and Craft for over five years and love it, but had always worked with teens and college students until then. I really like teenagers! Many of the kids who started with me at Treehouse began to outgrow wanting to hang out there. It wasn’t a
"I would love to one day teach at a community art center as well as open my own space." – Hope Hilton
dig on Treehouse, which is such an inspiring space, but a desire on their part to be somewhere less focused on wee ones. When Kristen Ashley opened the Artist Shop downtown I was so excited that it had a classroom, because that was what I needed — a space that was “cool” and more oriented toward their age group. I walked in one day, introduced myself, and mentioned I was interested in teaching some classes. We’ve collaborated ever since, with Kristen managing the website and space and insurance and I manage the classroom and the workshops. &: Can you give me a breakdown of a typical session? HH: I really try to tap into what they’re interested in and see where that takes us. I always come in with ideas as a launching point, but never examples. I believe when we see examples we copy them, at least I do. The ideas are always geared toward inspiring them to engage themselves with the world around them. We’ve had days where we discuss the history of art and how we know so much about the past because people left their mark, so to speak. Through this idea we’ve created “maps” of what we carry around with us, so one drawing may be completely full of art supplies while another is a drawing of shoes and an iPod. It’s a way to archive these years ... We’ve created zines, made wire sculptures, created maps of our dream islands, invented characters, and responded to works by contemporary artists.
&: Do you get a chance to showcase the art? What do you see as the future of the program, would you like it to expand, and are you in need of volunteers? HH: We have made one collaborative drawing which was a part of an exhibition in the gallery called “Love in All Its Many Forms.” We filled a huge page with drawings of our supplies. Kristen and I are planning a summer camp for one week in July or August that’s about creating an exhibition, making work for it, installing it, and marketing it. I taught this in San Francisco at Southern Exposure Gallery and it was the best exhibition I’ve ever seen. I want to see what we come up with in Athens. I’m always interested in volunteers, but it has to be a good fit. And never more than one. I hope this is clear without sounding snobby. What we need most are scholarships! I would love to host at least 1 or 2 teens that don’t have to worry about the cost that may prevent them from attending. I have one angel benefactor who covers any need, but we could expand our reach by having sponsors or other donors. It can make a huge difference to attend art classes with this group. To be honest, I would love to one day teach at a community art center as well as open my own space — conceptual art school for kids. I don’t have time right now with my own art practice and other teaching, but I’m still young. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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