Zyhakiah Mattress (pictured above) sat on a short stool, bent over a pottery wheel, shaping a small bowl in concentration.
“It’s fun experiencing how to make stuff. It’s just really fun,” Zyhakiah said with a smile at the Anderson Arts Center on Thursday. “You get to experience something you’ve never done.”
In just a few minutes eighth-grader had made her first bowl and started on her second, throwing the clay on the wheel, and pressing two fingers into the center of the flat lump of clay while she steadied one hand with the other.
With money from South Carolina Arts Commission, the Anderson Arts Center was able to provide art classes for the Anderson County Alternative School students.
An Anderson man, Phil Batson, wrote the Arts and Education (Project) grant as part of a master’s thesis, and Arts Center Director Kimberly Spears and program coordinator Chris Beggs were able to alter the grant to fit their needs. They received $15,000 from the grant, and the art center had to match the other $15,000. The money is used to pay for materials, such as clay, sketchbooks and other supplies, teachers, facilities and transportation.
Chris Speares of the Anderson County Alternative School shapes a piece of pottery during a class at the Anderson Arts Center.
At the Alternative School, students in sixth through 12th grades only take the core classes such as math, science, social studies and English, but now students have the ability to go off campus for a couple of hours to take a class in sketching or pottery.
“Even though these kids are at the Alternative School, they have a lot of talent,” said Alternative School Director Randolph Dillingham. “It was a no-brainer. Our kids have interest and have talent. This allows them to enhance their skills and learn a craft.”
Across the hall from local artists Joshua Davis’s pottery class, posters about the elements of design hang on the walls in the sketching classroom. Before the students arrived Thursday morning, local artists Tracey Weiss and Kimberly Bowen hurriedly rearranged tables and chairs, while placing a sketchbook and a student’s portfolio on each desk. They set out all of the materials ahead of time, because they have a limited time to draw in the 90-minute class.
For 10th-grader Chantal Groves, drawing helps her relax.
“It takes your mind away from things,” Chantal said.
Drawing is a passion for eighth-grader Devin Richardson.
“I’ve been wanting to come here for a long time,” Devin said.
He said he often gets in trouble for drawing in class, but now he can, and learn techniques to be a better artist.
Each session is about six weeks long, and if the students choose to, they may continue for additional sessions, following educational art standards even though the classes aren’t for credit.
“We want to build confidence and a sense of accomplishment in these students,” Beggs said. “We want to show them they have a skill or a talent.”
The ultimate goal is for the students to submit art pieces to the Youth Art Show in March. Students in every school in Anderson County can participate, and for the first year, so can the Alternative School.
Art classes will continue until the end of the school year, but Beggs plans to reapply for the grant in January to continue to expand the program for the future.
If she gets enough students in the classes, she would love to expand the program to two days a week. Beggs said she hopes to add a third class, painting, in the near future and another wheel to the pottery class.
“I want to see how far we can take it,” she said.