Anderson Ranch keeps ball rolling on education for young artists

Programs for 2021 focus on creativity, “growth mindset”

Leo Fromm shows off a handmade creation during an exhibition for Anderson Ranch "Full STEAM Ahead!" workshop for students ages 9-12 at the Snowmass Village arts center on Friday, July 30, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

Anderson Ranch Arts Center never stopped offering its children’s programs, even during the pandemic summer of 2020 when so much else had to be put on the back burner or shelved amid restrictions.

Programs sold out then, and it has been a similar story in 2021. There have been waiting lists for some workshops, and — par for the course in education — “kids being kids. … They keep you on your feet,” said Olivia Martinez, the Latinx community leader and children’s program coordinator at the Snowmass Village campus.

The focus is on the process of art-making in whatever form that takes for each student, she said.

“For young kids — I mean, we’ve all kind of had this experience — but it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m not good at this. I don’t want to do it, because mine doesn’t look right,’ and I think part of that (education) is also fostering that growth mindset. … Art is not meant to be perfect,” Martinez said. “And it’s amazing, because you created it, it was something that you came up with that you imagined.”

That’s not to discount the products of the workshops, though. At a July 30 exhibition for students enrolled in “Full STEAM Ahead!” session, participants between the ages of 9 and 12 showcased computer games they programmed themselves, with handmade tin foil, cardboard and cable controllers that set animated characters in motion to music and sound effects.

The games were on display alongside handmade dioramas with movable parts; some participants donned custom hand-drawn hats (many of the lids designed to match the theme of the student’s computer game).

Leo Fromm uses a computer game controller he made during Anderson Ranch's "Full STEAM Ahead!" workshop for students ages 9-12. The program held an exhibition at the Snowmass Village arts center on Friday, July 30, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

Though some students had dabbled in computer programming before, others learned all of it over the course of the weeklong session. The only way to tell the difference was to ask the creator.

“When you give kids a tool, they learn to use it — you just have to encourage them,” said Evelyn Siegel, who with her husband, Martin, funded the Siegel Children’s Building that hosts educational programs for young artists at the ranch. (The structure was “funded by the hearts of many people,” the 94-year-old said during an interview at a July 30 student art exhibition.)

Siegel places a high emphasis on arts education and the exposure to ideas and skills that programs like the ones at Anderson Ranch can provide to young artists. After all, “they don’t just get it out of the air,” Siegel said.

In her eyes, the mission has high stakes that go far beyond learning how to program a video game or make an interactive diorama.

“If we don’t bring these kids up to appreciate, love and understand what the word ‘art’ means, … then we won’t have the right society,” Siegel said.

Martinez, in her role as the children’s program coordinator and the Latinx arts community leader, is working to ensure kids from different backgrounds throughout the valley can be part of the cohort who picks up an appreciation and a love for art at Anderson Ranch.

A student-created "Super Mario Bros." computer game and handmade controller sit on display during an exhibition for the Anderson Ranch Arts Center "Full STEAM Ahead!" workshop on Friday, July 30, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

Recently, that work has been a collaborative effort involving conversations with leaders at other community nonprofits in the valley to pinpoint and address the barriers to entry that might otherwise leave some young artists out of the loop.

Transportation is a hurdle, especially for kids downvalley; so are language and cost, which has Martinez thinking about ways to incorporate bilingual education into some workshops and dialing in on scholarships for students.

Martinez also is planning “Art Breaks” this year that align with the Aspen School District calendar to offer full-day programming during some school vacations to keep the ball rolling on year-round arts education at the ranch.

Those workshops, like the ones that run every week throughout the summer, cover a broad range of mediums and themes but all focus on fostering creativity. The endgame, Martinez said, is “them being able to see themselves as artists, no matter what that looks like.”