Elementary Young Artist Program brings art to Hamblen County K-3 students

Dan Gibson taught an art class on a recent Monday.

It’s nothing he hasn’t done before. In fact, he is one of the more active members of the Morristown Art Association, he regularly holds evening Paint N’ Sips throughout the Lakeway Area, at friends’ gatherings in private homes and places like Hale Springs Inn in Rogersville and The Country Club in Morristown.

He teaches classes at the Morristown Senior Citizens Center and Rose Center Council for the Arts.

So, it’s pretty routine for Gibson to unpack his easel, don an apron, stick a handful of paint brushes in the apron pocket and then offer up a lot of one-on-one instruction about how to approach a canvas.

On this particular Monday, the easy-going Gibson may well have been a rock star.

His audience was made up of 130 Hamblen County Schools students, grades K-3, who were attending the 7th annual Elementary Young Artist After School Art Program at Talley-Ward Recreation Center in Morristown. The program is offered at no charge.

“The kids love him,” Carol Rouse, program founder, said. She is the Visual Arts teacher at East High School, located just across the school’s parking lot from the center.

Rouse took photos of parents lined up before that night’s class outside the Talley Ward building, a city-owned property that is maintained by its Parks and Recreation department.

The program had previously been held at Rose Center Council for the Arts, but the large numbers of participants outgrew the classrooms there. The move to Talley Ward afforded Rouse the use of the large community room at the center. A bank of windows beckoned the afternoon light which inspired the K-3 students, at Gibson’s urging, to create their own versions of the sun using the tips of their fingers and yellow paint.

Gibson was inspired, too.

“I had a BLAST yesterday afternoon teaching an acrylic art class to Carol Rouse’s “Elementary Young Artist After School Art Program,” he posted on Facebook.

Gibson utilizes social media to promote local art happenings, including exhibits at Rose Center, and he always posts the results of his classes, praising the efforts of participants no matter the skill levels.

The young artists were treated no differently. Photos were posted with the students holding their own creations, along with some of Gibson’s completed pieces that he brought along for show and tell.

“These kids from K-3 are so talented and awesome!!!” Gibson said on his Facebook page. “We had an overflow of kids so we had to have a second room. Remember these children do not have ART in school. Thank you Talley Ward Recreation Center for allowing Carol to hold these wonderful classes at your location.”

Rouse reiterated the statement that art classes are currently not offered at any K-5 school in the district.

“Art classes in Hamblen County Schools begin in middle school. The county is one of three in the state that does not offer art classes in its elementary schools,” she said. “This is my 26th year teaching in my hometown. We have never had elementary art teachers in our school system. The first art teacher I ever had was in sixth grade at Westview. When I was 16, I told my art teacher, Mr. Vance, I wanted to teach. One of my legacies, before I retire, is to promote elementary art education in the hopes they will find it in the budget to offer it in K-5 classrooms.”

The K-3 students will continue their foray into the world of visual artistry each Monday and Tuesday through March 30. On Tuesday, March 31, the program will culminate in a first-class finale, a community Art Show. Those in attendance at past shows included local artists and dignitaries like Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney, Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain and Hamblen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Perry.

“It’s huge,” Rouse said. “And it’s not just mom and dad that the kids invite, it’s grandparents and everybody. They want to show everyone what they are able to do. I think it’s so important in their education: art builds self esteem, encourages problem solving. They get so excited to see their art hanging.”

On Monday, April 6, the second session of the program will begin, this time welcoming Hamblen County Schools students in grades 4-6. They will continue every Monday and Tuesday through May 4, with their Art Show presented on Tuesday, May 5. This session, there will be a few younger students granted special admission. Because of the large response this year, Rouse was forced to turn away around 20 K-3 students who had wanted to attend the first session — “It broke my heart,” she said, “So I added them to my fourth and fifth-grade program.”

The program is offered free through a Tennessee Arts Commission matching grant. Rouse has been able to raise the matching amount with the help of the HC*EXCELL Arts Builds Skills program (a local education-based nonprofit), the GFWC Ladies Reading Circle (a local civic club) the Morristown Art Association, local companies like MAHLE and the support of individuals like attorneys Denise Terry and Link Gibbons.

“It is not funded by Hamblen County Schools, but it is a school program,” Rouse said. “I don’t understand why we can’t have elementary art education; after all, we are the third largest industrial county in the state. We do have music teachers in the system that rotate between elementary schools and band is offered, beginning in the fifth grade. Fine arts — theatre — is not offered until 9th grade.”

Under a photo posted by Gibson showing him in the middle of the art action, wearing a huge smile, the caption reads, “Wow....you can tell I’m one happy guy!!!”

Local artist and fellow MAA member Mike Everidge is set to attend one of the sessions, bringing with him examples of his type of art works: caricatures of actors and musicians. Other local artists participating in the program include Jim Palmer and Kelly Dorton, a former East High student who is a potter.

Dorton participated in a previous program session — “The kids asked if the clay was Play-Doh,” Rouse said.

Through the program, Rouse teaches a Tennessee Arts curriculum, a combination of education and hands-on instruction, and feels the local artists make an invaluable contribution to each student’s experience.

“They come and share their art with the kids. Many of the kids have never met a real artist. They want to touch their artwork, they want to talk to them, they get so excited. We don’t have any museums here, except for the exhibits at Rose Center. I teach the kids how to paint “Starry Night” and they say, ‘tell us the story of Van Gogh.’ The artists love that the kids enjoy their work. Dan said to me, ‘They get so excited.’ I told him, ‘Half of these kids have never touched a canvas. They don’t realize this can be a career, they are not exposed to this as a child.’”

Rouse admits the program has snowballed since it debuted with 40 students.

“It makes me feel good, but then I’m overwhelmed at the same time. Teacher friends of mine are helping me, all of them volunteers. They get no money for doing it. Out of my grant money, I try to compensate the artists for their gas. The teachers are all doing it on a volunteer basis.”

Rouse said the program is essential to bringing a need in the community to light.

“Our school board members need to see what the parents want: they want art in their schools,” she said.

As for the students, they are exposed to careers in art, instructed on how to use different art mediums and materials, and taught essential skills.

“Every night, I bring in an artist,” Rouse said. “It’s not something they read about or listen to someone talk about — it’s the real thing.”