The motto is "Do art, be kind." And those are the only real rules of the studio, said Meg Biddle, program director of Youth Arts Collective (YAC) in Monterey.
Biddle began the nonprofit after-school art program with Marcia Perry in 2000. The women, who are artists themselves, had watched with discouragement as arts programs were systematically cut from schools. They decided to do something about it for youths in the Monterey Bay area.
"We tried to invent this as a place that Marcia and I would have loved when we were growing up," said Biddle. That meant a place where assignments weren't given, but where self-directed artists were provided with the means to create what moved them; where youths were encouraged to create freely alongside professional artists; where peers interacted with one another in a safe, nonjudgmental community.
Twelve years later, YAC is a thriving program with up to 60 young painters, sketchers, sculptors, animators, airbrush artists, photographers, ceramicists and other visual artists following their muse at any time in the downtown Monterey studio.
Ranging in age from 14to 22 yearsold, one-third of the students are from low-income families. Most of them will go from YAC to four-year universities, often with full scholarships.
Many of them will become professional artists or art teachers. All of them will attest that the experiences in YAC have changed their lives in a profound way.
"YAC was definitely the place I found my voice as an artist and a person," said Elisabeth Donley, a YAC alumna who now directs an after-school program at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay.
The desire to find a voice is something that Biddle has heard echoed not only in the youth artists of Monterey County, but in the adult population. Many adults in the area have expressed the same thing: "I wish I had a YAC."
This got Biddle to thinking about the program — and how she could open it up to the wider community.
"Initially I asked, 'why do people who walk in here get so excited?'" said Biddle. "It's different from a gallery because you're watching the artists do the art. It's electric watching their creative process. So I thought, why not open it up to artists who want to get out of their studios and put them together with YAC alumni?"
The result was "Live Art," an interactive night where the YAC studio will be open to the public and filled with art-making, art demos, performance, food, music and wine. "Live Art" takes place 5-10 p.m. on Saturday, April 21.
There will be more than 30 professional artists participating in the event, including Emily Brown, Christine Crozier, Frank Troia, Mike "DABO" Lopez, Jennifer Anderson, Mary Liz Houseman and Justin DeVine.
Featured performers include Andrew Dolan and Sunshine Jackson of The Good Sams, guitarist and former YAC member Keith Damron, singer-songwriter Cowboy Starr, Music Without Borders musician Juan L. Sanchez, Kyler Mello of the band Mozzo Kush and improvisational comedian Gerry Orton.
"People will want to get their hands involved, so they will get to make their own T-shirts," said Biddle, encouraging guests to wear clothes that they want to have painted. "Live art will be happening all night long."
The public will have the opportunity to buy pieces of art that are created that night. Each piece will be priced at $50 and below.
The ability for young artists to show and sell their art is one thing that makes the program stand out, said Jim Dultz, YAC artist and mentor.
"The artwork on the walls is so personal and original," he said. "It's a big, inspiring place for kids to create. They're given lots of freedom and encouraged to create things that are close to their heart. Then they get the chance to show their art. It rocks their world to sell their work."
The effects of the artistic process on a young person's self-esteem can be seen in Donley, who was living in dire economic circumstances when she joined the program when she was 14 years old. She attributes YAC to helping her to see options for how she could live her life.
"It's wholly self-directed learning, so the impact is so deep," she said. "You're not working for anyone else, but to fulfill your own vision. As a teenager in that position, it gave me such a tremendous amount of confidence."
YAC alumnus Khalid Hussein, a freelance artist and designer, shares similar sentiments. He started the program when he was 15 years old, soon after he moved to the United States from Egypt.
"I entered YAC right after 9/11," he said. "Having a name like Hussein was difficult. There were a lot of weird political lashouts. I reacted to that by thinking that America was hostile to the culture I grew up in. YAC was a place where I was introduced to a side of America that was diverse, that welcomed me and that didn't question my Americanness. I saw a window into America that I could be included in."
After YAC, Hussein studied art at UC Los Angeles, along with two other students from his YAC cohort. He pursued a master's degree in Islamic studies and now works full time as an artist, often incorporating elements of the Islamic cultural experience into his work. One of his recent projects includes the Monterey Market Hall mural in downtown Monterey.
"The lessons in YAC aren't only artistic," said Hussein. "Meg and Marcia treat you like a professional. The responsibility is given and (so) you feel like you have to live up to that responsibility. Once you're treated with respect, you live up to that standard."
Lily Dayton can be reached at email@example.com. GO!
·What: Youth Arts Collective presents an evening of "Live Art"
·Where: YAC Studios, 472 Calle Principal, Monterey
·When: 5-10 p.m. Saturday, April 21
·Tickets: $5 cover, includes free $5 wine or art
·Information: www.yacstudios.org, 375-9922