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Winthrop Arts ready to launch improved 'Factory' for students

Published Sep. 22, 2016

RIVERVIEW — Winthrop Arts takes the next step toward a sustainable arts organization for the area with the launch of a special program for youths next month.

Its Art Factory opens Oct. 3, about nine months after Winthrop Arts held a community launch in January, but it's not a new concept.

Artist Bryant Martinez started the Art Factory about two years ago, meeting in the pole barn at Winthrop, said Winthrop Arts "director of everything" Katharine Sullivan-Dawes.

"It had very humble beginnings with just a couple of kids after school and Bryant teaching them arts," says Sullivan-Dawes. "More kids started showing up and parents were hearing about it through the grapevine."

The Art Factory now occupies a triple-wide trailer, which through donations and the organizers' tireless manual labor, has been completely remodeled to accommodate 60 students ages 5 to 18.

Students will be placed in a color-themed group based on age and artistic ability and will rotate classes each day of the week. The classes will cost $55 a week.

"So, for example, on Monday, the purple group will be in painting and drawing with Bryant, then each day they'll move on to sculpture, ceramics, core class and fabrics," Sullivan-Dawes said. "So if you're a student there, you're touching several different art forms every week."

Students will work on major projects every four to six weeks, lead by handpicked instructors, making their own curriculum.

Winthrop Arts board selected art teachers through interviews and mock classes, with varying talents and levels of art backgrounds, Martinez said. Some have art degrees, some have worked as artists in Paris, and some simply possess a passion and arts know-how.

"We had a lot of people interested in teaching. It was at least 25 résumés for four spaces," Martinez said. "Every one of our teachers has great, unique credentials, but they're all doing it for the art and to share their love of art,"

Sullivan-Dawes and Martinez believe the grass roots aspect of Winthrop Arts is what has connected it to the community since it started in 2011, and what will allow it to succeed.

"I think what's cool too about the grass roots aspect is that I feel like we're just listening to what the community wants, and we're going to try the art factory and experiment with the after-school program, but we're also opening up to home-school day classes because we know there is such a big home-school community around here," Sullivan-Dawes said.

"We were going to wait to do that, but we've already gotten demand for it, so instead of saying, 'We're not ready,' we're going to do what the community is telling us it needs, and we'll figure out the little details because it's so malleable."

Aside from facilitating creativity, Martinez and Sullivan-Dawes hope students take away valuable life skills from the Art Factory classes.

"We'll have a lot of instances where we'll upcycle with donated scrap wood, or in the fabrics class, maybe they'll learn how to sew on a button," Sullivan-Dawes said. "We just want these kids to see creativity and art in everyday things, and maybe they won't have to throw away their favorite shirt because a button fell off or pay $400 for an artisanal bench when they get older because they can make one themselves."

With big plans for the future, Martinez maintains that Winthrop is one of the great destinations of what he calls Florida's "art coast," and that the connections students can make through the Art Factory will help build that reputation.

"Every great destination has four important pillars: art, academia, great culinary and great respect for nature," Martinez said. "The difference with us is that we're going to add a fifth pillar of fun, and that through all the effort it takes to create and sustain an organization like this, we are having fun in the process."

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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