A class on a no-school day gets started at Art Makers Outpost. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Valerie Kahan had a dream to build the first LEED-certified art center in Evanston, an energy-efficient and sustainable operation that would offer creativity and community for everyone.

Anna Soltys at work on a commissioned mosaic upstairs at the Outpost. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Her dream has adapted to fiscal realities, is not LEED-certified and she said it’s still “in startup mode,” but Art Makers Outpost, the small business she opened in January 2020, is certainly hosting plenty of creativity and community.

The top of the two-story building at 609 South Blvd. is home to several artists’ studios. Space is tight and the walls around each space do not reach the ceiling, so there is no aural privacy, but the atmosphere is collegial and supportive. The RoundTable saw the work of two artists, Rachel Mars and Anna Soltys. Soltys is also a co-curator for the Outpost After Dark music series, along with Kahan and musician Chris Greene.

The downstairs space is primarily geared toward young people and is where much of the artistic activity occurs. On holidays, half days, after school on Wednesdays and during school breaks, the Outpost provides art programs and camps. The artist leading the group might demonstrate a technique, offer some guidance and suggest materials for a project.

Valerie Kahan, co-founder and creative director of Art Makers Outpost. Credit: Wendi Kromash

The after-school programs, capped at 20 kids per session, last about two hours each. None are segregated by age, enabling budding creators to learn from older and younger artists. Junior counselors circulate around the tables.

Kahan said the Outpost’s pedagogical philosophy is “more guided than instructed.”

“We want to create a space where kids of all abilities ages 6 to 14 can flourish,” she said. “We are accepting and supportive, and have no expectations other than they should be exactly who they are. We also don’t make rules unless we need them. Most of our enrollments come in through word of mouth. Parents tell me, ‘This works for my kid.’”

During the summer, camp sessions are a week long, with morning and afternoon sessions offered for five consecutive weeks for kids ages 6 to 14. There is also an immersive two-week mural camp for kids 9 to 16. The most recent murals are displayed on the exterior southern wall of the building. 

Two of the murals displayed outside Art Makers Outpost at 609 South Blvd. Credit: Wendi Kromash

On a few select Fridays the Outpost also offers teen art programs called Friday Night Teen Art Socials. Kahan sees the socials as “safe spaces for teens to hang with friends, make new friends and have fun in a supervised but laid-back environment.”

A new program just launched for “mini makers” ages 3-5 accompanied by a caretaker. Kids will hear a story and have an opportunity to make something to take home.

Soltys (from left), Greene and Kahan are co-curators for the Outpost After Dark concert series. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Kahan also offers art-making events for adults, which are BYOB. Three are scheduled so far this year. She also has held team-building exercises for corporate clients at the Outpost, and the space is available to rent for birthday parties and private events.

When discussing the importance and role of art, Soltys said, “Sometimes it’s not about having a goal but just about allowing your brain to process whatever is going on around you.” Kahan, Greene and Soltys are committed to giving back to the community. Kahan said the business provides no-barrier scholarships if needed, which are covered by contributions.

Like the sign says, one scoop of googly eyes per person seems like a good general rule of thumb to preserve supplies at the Art Makers Outpost. Credit: Wendi Kromash

During the pandemic, Kahan and a team of volunteers assembled and distributed more than a thousand art kits for kids to build guided projects at home.

The supplies are all gifts from local businesses and others. The contributed materials support new Outpost art projects, and it helps the environment to keep them out of a landfill.

In addition to the usual supplies such as nontoxic paint, markers, pencils and various types of paper, there are wood pieces in various shapes, fabric samples, yarns, threads, buttons, metal and plastic lids, chalk, pipe cleaners, cork, sparkles, leftover industrial samples of wallpaper, flooring and other material.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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