Lawrence Arts Center to introduce career preparation program for young artists

In this file photo from Wednesday, March 16, 2016, 8-year-old Dexter Dillingham, left, and Neal Barbour, director of youth education at the Lawrence Arts Center, put some guerrilla art — aka student posters — on the walls of US Bank, 900 Massachusetts St. Beginning in September, Barbour will facilitate a series of workshops to help area high school students develop the tools they need to have successful careers in the arts.

Neal Barbour likes to think of the arts as a tool belt. If you’re a creative type looking to build a career for yourself in art, he explained, you’ll need a complete arsenal in your tool belt — one that goes beyond talent and passion to include networking, personal branding, grant writing and other professional essentials.

This fall, in partnership with local arts professionals, the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Kansas’ department of visual art and KU Center for Entrepreneurship, the Lawrence Arts Center will offer a new workshop series intended to build the “tool belts” of high school artists.

Barbour, the Arts Center’s director of youth education and the program’s main facilitator, is calling it stARTup. Intended for young artists between 16 and 19 years old, the workshops will teach arts-centered college- and career-readiness skills not typically found in high school curricula, Barbour said.

“I looked around the landscape, and we have such highly regarded and amazing art teachers in the public schools who do some portfolio development through AP classes and studio classes, but many of the students in the high-school track don’t have the opportunity unless they’re in that class,” said Barbour, who previously served as a member of the fine arts faculty at Topeka West High School before joining the Arts Center staff. “We really wanted to create this program to offer the students a different angle of what it takes to make art and sustain that practice in our community.”

The workshops, which will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday, are divided into two sessions. The first, starting Sept. 7, will cover portfolio development, entrepreneurial skills (including grant and scholarship writing, website building, and how to photograph both 2-D and 3-D pieces) and the creation of work to be shown in a group show (students will also learn how to price artwork and effectively communicate with galleries) during December’s Final Friday.

The second session will entail more studio time (with access to the Arts Center’s recently renovated printmaking studio), professional development and goal-setting for the students, who will create a new body of work to be shown in their own solo shows at Final Friday venues throughout the Lawrence and Kansas City area in April and May.

Barbour stressed that stARTup is open to all students of all skill levels, though a willingness to learn and challenge oneself is paramount. He recognized the program may welcome “a few 15-year-olds” as well as young people taking a gap year between high school and college, or even those who wish to opt out of the traditional art-school route and simply want to get their careers started.

“We’re looking for artists who have created in different mediums, but want to get better in those mediums and want to explore new mediums,” he said. “Drive and commitment is what we’re looking for.”

The program, which runs until May 3, will offer instruction in everything from ceramics, sculpture and metalsmithing to painting, illustration and graphic arts. As of Thursday, enrollment hovered around four; Barbour said he’s hoping to add about 10 students to that cohort and plans to co-facilitate a series of outreach visits at Lawrence high schools next week.

The fall and spring sessions are offered at $272 each, though financial aid and scholarships are available. Enrollment will remain open past the first workshop, Barbour said.

A lot has been said about “the great brain drain” occurring in communities across Kansas and the nation, Barbour said. Just this month, the Journal-World published an article about the phenomenon in the Sunflower State, where fewer graduates of Kansas colleges and universities are choosing to stay in Kansas over the long run.

Barbour hopes programs such as stARTup will send a message to Lawrence’s talented young people — essentially, there’s a place for you here, and we’ll help equip you with the tools to share your talent with your community.

“I think we just have such a robust arts scene here filled with self-starters and well-educated and experienced artisans. It’s such a range,” Barbour said. “I think within that range, there really is room for up-and-comers and people who are serious about the arts.”

More information about stARTup, including how to enroll, can be found at