‘Unique power:’ ISU Art Station shows young people what is possible | local education

BLOOMINGTON – When you visit an after-school art class with kids in kindergarten through fifth grade, you expect a bit of chaos, questions, curiosity and chatter – not much thought and deep introspection.

But sometimes the most discerning philosophers wear barrettes of pink and white ribbon in their hair.

As 9-year-old Micheri Seiller worked on a collage in the basement of the Boys & Girls Club in Bloomington-Normal, she said, “My favorite thing about art is that anything is possible.”

That’s exactly the kind of optimism the Illinois Art Station seeks when presenting programs like the Boys & Girls Club.

It’s the same optimism the Illinois State University program needs as it runs the Illinois Art Station out of a brightly colored van and temporary quarters on campus, waiting for a permanent space.

The colorful minivan from the Illinois Art Station, the Mobile Arts Center, recently stopped at the Boys & Girls Club in Bloomington-Normal.


“Our mission is to provide all children, youth and their families with transformative learning through hands-on experiences in the visual arts,” said Isra El-beshir, director of the fledgling program since October 2017.

Like young artist Micheri, Normal’s Laura Berk also believes that art makes things possible.

Berk, a distinguished psychology professor emeritus and author of several books on child development, is the founding donor of the Illinois Art Station.

While meeting with one of her editors in New York, she visited the Children’s Museum of the Arts and wanted to see something similar in Bloomington-Normal.

“I believe the arts – the visual arts, in particular – have a unique power to support various aspects of development,” Berk said. “I envision it (the Illinois Art Station) as a place where all of this tremendous power can come together.”

The recent Illinois Art Station class at the Boys & Girls Club is among those held in partnership with the Western Avenue Community Center, The Autism Place, public libraries and other organizations.

From June to December 2018, the Illinois Art Station offered 40 classes through nine community partners, serving 1,246 children, youth and their families.

One of his most visible projects is a mural painted last summer along Constitution Trail, where it passes under Washington Street.

Another mural project is planned for this year, in collaboration with the City of Bloomington and Artolution, an international nonprofit whose co-founder and co-director, Joel Bergner, grew up in Bloomington-Normal. Bergner will lead the project. Berk is the Educational Director of the Artolution Board of Directors.

The mural will be painted at the corner of Market Street and Monroe Avenue. It will be unveiled to the public at noon on June 9. Local artists and young people who want to get involved can apply to bit.ly/MarketYouthMural or call Peggy Finnegan-Boyes at 309-438-0882.

Graduate and undergraduate students teach Illinois Art Station classes, gaining experience in their fields.

Zoe Kollias, an art education senior from Schaumburg, said she’s observed students in classrooms “and they hesitate,” but in classes at the Illinois Art Station, “they go.”

It’s one of the things that arts education major Micaela Bucci loves about teaching the class.

“They’re so eager to experiment,” the Lansing eldest said.

Brooke Ball, a graduate assistant from New Lenox who is studying for her master’s degree in arts education, said the environment was different.

“We get the creativity and the involvement of the school, but not the hard and fast rules,” Ball said.


Sanaa Jackson, 10, has fun during an Illinois Art Station program at the Boys & Girls Club in Bloomington-Normal.


In fact, fellow graduate assistant Luke Lowers of Normal, studying art technology, said, “We encourage them to do damage.”

Last week’s project is inspired by the work of African-American artist Howardena Pindell, who uses imagery to draw people in and think about bigger issues.

Ball had the students write “I am” statements on pieces of cardboard that served as the basis for their collage.

Statements from the children included, “I am nice. “I am courageous.” “I am a leader.”

While some children chose their favorite colors or random elements for their collages, Micheri created an elaborate backstory of a city with towers and bridges and “stinky cheese”.

Jennifer Hall, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club, said the Illinois Art Station program “has been really amazing. … It involves different people and different elements.

El-beshir said she is pleased with the relationships the Illinois Art Station has established so far. Five years from now, “I see him as a community anchor…an ambassador for visual arts education.”

Photos: Developing Creativity at the Illinois Art Station

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

Back To Top