For over 20 years, the Union University art department’s Community Art Program has offered weekly classes, Saturday afternoon workshops, and summer programs that give school-aged children and teens a fine art experience where they can express their creativity and develop their skills.
Debra Tayloe, director of the Community Art Program, said that families from various towns across West Tennessee travel nearly an hour every day to bring their students to after-school art classes at Union. The Community Art Program gives K-12 students access to quality instruction and an environment that allows them to cultivate their unique artistic style while learning fundamentals such as the elements of art and principles of design.
“We wanted [the program] to be a place where we met each student where they are [and] gave them an opportunity to explore through hands-on process,” Tayloe said. “We hope that we can offer a new way of seeing and exploring the world around us, while we also strive to build skills and confidence, nurturing the creativity of each student.”
Every Saturday from 1-3 p.m., Tayloe hosts a workshop in one of the apartments of the Hope Residence Complex, where students of a variety of ages, skill levels and backgrounds meet to learn new techniques and concepts and practice them by creating a piece of art.
Hanging on the walls in the apartment are large posters featuring color mixing charts and works by famous artists. The tables are arranged in the center of the room and prepared with everything the students will need for that day’s project, in addition to little place cards with each student’s name and aprons draped across the back of every chair. As the students work, Tayloe gives one-on-one instruction with the help of art students from Union who volunteer their time.
Ruth Duncan, freshman art major, occasionally serves as an assistant to Tayloe at these events, and she believes the program is highly beneficial for the young artists.
“It’s good to reach out in the community,” Duncan said. “[The Community Art Program] is a way for young people to hone a skill…and just a really great experience.”
In addition to in-class instruction, students are also given the opportunity to visit the university art gallery, study sculptures on campus, and tour professors’ studios. The summer program this past year, which took place in the new library, was a collaboration between the art department and biology department. Students studied birds of prey for their artwork. Over the years, a number of Tayloe’s students who participated in the Community Art Program have gone on to study at the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts.
The people who are a part of Union’s art department reach out to the community on a local and regional level by raising money for organizations such as RIFA and Advance Memphis, by volunteering at art-related events, and by refreshing or creating new murals for local institutions. However, the most unique aspect of their outreach is the Community Art Program, because they don’t just go out into the community; they also invite the community in, providing excellent education to the next generation of artists.