Friday, January 28, 2022

No Problems, Just Solutions

Young Artists Acadamy students  drawing in the gallery of Marco Islands Center for teh Arts. photo by Tara O'Neill

Young Artists Acadamy students drawing in the gallery of Marco Islands Center for teh Arts. photo by Tara O’Neill

Artful Life
Tara O’Neill

I am so fortunate. Despite the days that close in utter weariness due to facing a multitude of challenges, most mornings dawn with the waking certainty of how fortunate I am. For one thing, I now use the word challenges, where once I would have used the word problems.

One recent shine of fortune was to be invited to instruct at the Young Artists Academy at Marco Islands Center for the Arts. The Center’s executive director, Hyla Crane, was challenged with resurrecting a bygone program that instructs dedicated 12-18 year old artists Saturday mornings for eight weeks in, well, art.

Hyla’s first challenge (my perception, by no means hers) was funding for the program, which was solved through the generosity of Island Country Club and a local anonymous donor. How fortunate! Still ahead was constructing and implementing the program. Here’s but a fragment of the challenges that followed:

  • Students would be instructed by professional artists who could include facets of an artful life that curriculum-bound middle and high school teachers might not be able to address. Working artists with the time and interest to take on such a project needed to be found.
  • The course would be free to students but enrollment would be limited, so a selection criteria had to be put in place. Teacher recommendation, yes, but how not to exclude home-school students? It wasn’t easy, but solutions were found.
  • Students and a parent/guardian had to sign a commitment to assure attendance on all eight Saturdays. No interested student should be “bumped” for lack of space by someone who would only attend some of the sessions, but surely some exceptions — a pre-scheduled medical procedure — had to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Solutions, in the form of compromises, were found.

When Hyla asked if I would have interest in contributing to the program, I told her she had me at her first bullet point: instruction from professional artists. I’ve often addressed the lack of practical information given to students of the arts — from middle school right through college — as though business sense and recompense were immaterial to the arts. (Bah! Don’t get me started!). So yes, Hyla had me.

Also on board were professional ceramic artists and mainstays of the Center’s Clay Guild Ginnie Mueller and Barney Halashak. Originally, a limit of 20 students was set; we eventually accepted 28. Let’s not discuss the difficulty of rejecting young lovers of art. The student group would be split in two sets, with one set spending the first four Saturdays with Ginny Mueller learning the fundamentals of pottery, and the other set with me learning…? Then, they’d switch classrooms.

Now I had a prob…challenge: What to offer these students in (2.5 hrs x 4 wks) 10 hours that would enlighten and inspire and encourage them? How do I keep such a wide span of ages individually interested and inspired?

Recalling Hyla’s insistence on “instruction from professional artists,” I turned to my own arts network looking for insights and was rewarded with five arts professionals, in various fields, willing to give presentations followed by Q & A followed by a related creative project and lots of discussion. We were so fortunate.

Blue Mangrove Gallery owner Christi Marcoplos shared insights on how to approach galleries, what makes a proper presentation and encouragement to keep the faith. Denise Wauters-Johnson, owner of Paradise Web, discussed the role of technology in art sharing, promoting, designing and marketing. Karen Swanker, a multi-disciplined artist celebrated for, among other forms, her found-object art masterpieces made from collected litter, highlighted the concept of art’s potential to make a statement. Addie award-winning graphic designer Sherri Morrison, noted for her work with the Naples Botanical Garden, C’mon, the Golisano Childrens Museum, Naples Winter Wine Festival and much more, ignited copious artistic possibilities for our emerging artists.

Funny thing, this column was supposed to be about the students who, after all, were the ultimate answer to my challenges. Open-minded, generous, courageous, committed, inventive, passionate. Some came by bike; some on foot; others had to be driven. I applaud them, their teachers and families for their inspiring commitment. I applaud our community’s grasp of the imperative of nurturing creative thinking in our youth. And, I applaud the Marco Island Center for the Arts for returning this noble program to our community and for giving me a delicious challenge.

I am so fortunate.


Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and is currently represented by Blue Mangrove Gallery on Marco Island. Visit her at

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