Left to right, Open Studio staff: Sarah Laing, associate director; Karla Rindal, facilitation director; Erin Mooney, program director; and Dayna Block, executive director. Photo by Mary Mumbrue.

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The Evanston Arts Council Community Relations Committee and Open Studio Project presented the fourth in a series of connection lunches on Feb. 8. Featured were The Open Studio Project after- school program for adolescents, Art & Action, and the Evanston Township High School Senior Studies program.

OSP, 903 Sherman Ave., is a not-for-profit arts and social service agency that has been in Evanston for 10 years. The studio teaches participants how to use art-making effectively for personal growth and exploration.

In 2010, the Open Studio Project served 3,000 people. Dayna Block, executive director, told the group that more than 78 percent of their clients (over 2,000) receive free or discounted services, a 24 percent increase over last year. The overall community outreach program expanded by 60 percent in 2010. A record 56 percent of the participants in fee-paying classes are on scholarship.

Local artists, Evanston Arts Council members, ETHS teachers, graphic designers, City officials, a filmmaker and other Evanston residents attended the lunch and engaged in the conversation about teens, creativity and community service. Ms. Block said Art & Action is designed to help young people find creative ways to express themselves. The program is OSP’s most extensive year-round outreach after-school program for young people facing challenges.

“We provide safe, engaging encounters with creative art-making, and we tailor the program focus to the specific needs of each group we serve,” Ms. Block said.

Art & Action helps participants demonstrate healthy emotional self-expression. It also increases their ability to manage emotions that lead to violent behavior and substance abuse and encourages self-improvement and positive lifestyles. OSP works in collaboration with Evanston-based service providers.

Art & Action provides free year-round after-school and summer programs for 8-18-year-old at-risk youths and has served more than 1,000 low- to moderate-income-level youths.

Classes utilize a method developed by Ms. Block and two other art therapists that is taught in art therapy graduate programs around the country. The method uses drawing, painting, sculpture, collage and mask-making, in combination with writing, and operates without critiques or grades, judgments or criticism.

Steve Newman – one of the directors of the ETHS Senior Studies program, an English teacher and a Golden Apple recipient – co-presented with Ms. Block. Senior Studies is an interdisciplinary class that combines English, history and service learning. Mr. Newman told the group that about 50 students are selected by lottery to participate in the Senior Studies opportunity, which can connect high school students with the arts. This program is an opportunity to discover personal interests and passions and how what students do can have larger consequences in their local community and the world.

Mr. Newman said this program provides a great outlet for feelings and emotions. Within the block scheduling of this senior program is a mixture of history, English and community service with an opportunity for students to design, implement and follow through an independent project for their final semester in high school.

The independent projects can take one of four directions: career exploration, traditional research, community service and artistic expression. Many Senior Studies students select artistic projects that combine this expression with community service and community activism. Through these projects the students gain confidence in becoming successful, self-directed learners. The following are some examples of student independent studies projects with an arts focus:

• Implementing a dance therapy program for children with disabilities,

• Researching the effects of music on people with Alzheimer’s and then playing piano weekly for patients,

• Art projects/shows such as photography with funds generated and donated to research or charity.

The Evanston Cultural Connections continues to provide information-sharing, networking and educational opportunities within Evanston’s art and cultural community. Heidi Bloom, vice-chair of the council, said the Evanston Arts Council hopes to create a listserv to keep local
artists in communication.