EL PASO — When Andrea Ingle invited her husband Stephen to teach her special education class at Canutillo Middle School with the little left over art supplies she had, the couple had no idea it would lead to their life’s work providing an artistic outlet to children and teenagers throughout the border region.
That classroom experience combined with their own backgrounds in the arts was the spark for creating a non-profit organization, Creative Kids Inc., that uses the power of the arts to help youth, including teenagers at risk of dropping out, to achieve academic and personal success.
Ten years later, Creative Kids has a main studio and gallery in a 16,000-square-foot warehouse called the OLO Gallery (Other Learning Opportunities) at the recently renovated Union Plaza Arts District in downtown El Paso. The organization serves over 600 youth a year ranging in age from 4 to 18, and provides special programs for children battling cancer, children with disabilities, and disadvantaged and at-risk youth. It also has a long list of impressive local, regional and national sponsors, from the National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts to the City of El Paso and the Hunt Family Foundation.
Inside the Creative Kids facility, which includes a full studio with a teaching kitchen, a darkroom, a multimedia skills development center, and several classrooms, children and teens take classes in painting, sculpting, photography, graphic design, drawing, film, and much more.
Along with learning college-level art skills and techniques, teens also learn skills that can help them excel in subjects such as math, geometry, history, and vocabulary.
Andrea and Stephen, who have been married just shy of 11 years, are passionate about art education and what it can do to keep youth on the right path to success in school.
They feel that many public school systems do not utilize art programs to keep at-risk kids from dropping out. Public schools that do provide art instruction, may not allow at-risk students to participate because of their poor grades or low skills levels, they said.
“These are the things that get kids kind of down, and when your self-esteem is down and you don’t feel good, you usually quit,” said Stephen, 37, an artist who graduated from UTEP with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts.
“And so that’s what the art is providing them – not only an outlet to say I’m good at this and be proud – but it’s also keeping them engaged in going to school and it tells us how they’re feeling. That’s the reason this place exists,” Stephen added.
Andrea, who has a degree in Art and Interdisciplinary Studies, said she becomes motivated, “just seeing what [art]can do for them [the students], to express themselves in a way they probably can’t.
“We see a true change in these kids from when they first join and that keeps us going,” added the 35-year-old UTEP graduate.
In 1999, the year Andrea and Stephen founded Creative Kids, Adrian Lopez, then 11 years old, attended a summer art camp hosted by the organization.
His passion for art and teaching others are the reason why he hasn’t left yet. Now, as an art instructor, he wants people to know more about the organization and the great things they do for present and past students.
“One of the best parts for me is seeing my original students come back years later and finding them still doing art and asking what art classes to take at UTEP or advice on a drawing they’re doing for a contest,” said Lopez.
Creative Kids recently held its annual night of shopping that featured unique items in their toy and product lines such as t-shirts, bags, and scarves, all adorned with the images and artwork by their students. Proceeds will be invested into supplying materials and creating new programs that will help current and future students.
Creative Kids also teaches and exhibits artwork in Providence Memorial Hospital, the El Paso County Courthouse, and the El Paso Housing Authority Administration Offices. Their current exhibit is hanging in the Southwest terminal at the El Paso International Airport.
“Our mission is still the same as when we started 10 years ago,” Stephen said. “Which is to give the kids an opportunity to feel good, to make something that’s theirs, and to show off their talent.”