The Kent Bellows Studio: Labor of Learning... Labor of Love.
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the kent bellows studio and center for visual arts provides mentorship and guidance for omaha youth to explore their artistic talents. the studio will host wishbone 2012 in october to raise funds for future programming.
Anne Meysenburg is looking for the kids that have to create. “Are they writing on their lockers, on the walls, on their arms?” asked the executive director of the Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts. “We need the kids who just can’t help but create. We have students who say if they weren’t here they’d be in trouble.”
Not your average after-school program
The youth mentorship program comprises the cornerstone of the Kent Bellows Studio. Every semester, a new range of options (based on various artistic disciplines such as digital arts, urban art, fashion art, and so on) are prepared for the 40 to 50 students who’ve successfully applied and been matched with a mentor. “The model can be confusing,” Meysenburg admitted, “because they’re not really classes. The students drive what they want to do.”
Because a student stays in the program until they graduate from high school, only five to ten are admitted at a time. “We have to determine whether or not a student will thrive in our program,” Meysenburg said. “Not everyone will. It’s a unique model.”
The Studio recruits with an eye for diversity from a variety of places, such as local schools, Girls Inc., and the Juvenile Assessment Center. “We love the wild cards,” Meysenburg said. She spoke of one young man in particular who, when first accepted into the program, wouldn’t talk or even make eye contact. After three and a half years, he converses comfortably with adults and strangers. “When he graduates, that will be a real measure of our success,” she said.
Not your grandmother’s art class
Another measure of the Studio’s success may be its unique Urban Arts Program. “The Neighborhood Center approached us,” Meysenburg said. “They said, ‘We’re tired of painting over graffiti. Can you help us?’” The challenge was perfect for the Kent Bellows Studio. Participating students have the opportunity to take a love of graffiti, refine the art form, and benefit a public space with their talent.
“Just two convictions of graffiti and you can be a felon,” Meysenburg said. “We don’t agree with that law. I mean, I get it. I’m a property owner too, and I don’t want my stuff tagged. But I don’t think we should be turning our young people into felons. Let’s talk about prevention and channel that voice.”
In August, the Studio partnered with Impact One, a gang-prevention organization, to bring aerosol artist Chor Boogie from San Francisco to work on urban art murals with students. “When we do murals, the kids really get to facilitate the design,” Meysenburg said. Because the murals are sponsored by donors, preliminary sketches do have to receive approval, and mentors oversee the execution of the murals. “We have to balance expectations, from the students and from the donors.”
Though she confessed the balancing act to be a delicate one at times, Meysenburg noted that the Center has never had to paint over any of its 16 murals, nine of which are on the Keystone Trail. “We complete at least two a semester,” she said. “This fall semester, we’ll do four.”
Not a common man
Nurturing the growth of young art is the Studio’s way of following in the footsteps of the late Kent Bellows. “He really supported budding artists,” Meysenburg said. “He provided feedback for emerging talent. He guided people to their passions in general, not just in art.” A very charismatic man, the nationally renowned painter was something unique to each person he encountered. “I mention where I work,” Meysenburg said, “and everyone has a story to tell. He just had a huge personality.”
The historic building on 33rd and Leavenworth was Bellows’ home as well as the studio where he crafted his paintings in the meticulous realism style until his death in 2005. Fundraising began in 2007 to renovate his studio and apartment into a multi-use community art space. The first youth programs produced by the new Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Arts were held at the Bemis Center in 2008. By 2009, the first floor was finished, and the renovation was complete in 2010.
Not your typical gala
To continue in Bellows’ tradition of fostering the education of young artists, the Studio will host Wishbone 2012 at the Bemis Center from 7 to 10 p.m. on October 6. The inaugural fundraiser aims to grow a base of supporters and generate operating revenue. “We’re going to provide an experience,” Meysenburg said. “It’s an ungala.” Quixotic Fusion (“Think sort of Cirque de Soleil,” she said) will perform a routine inspired by the Kent Bellows Studio. Tickets start at $75 and include complimentary beverages. Premier-level tickets are $350 (access for four, a bottle of wine, a bistro table, plus the complimentary beverages), and lounge-level tickets are $700 (access for eight, a private lounge, and two bottles of wine, and of course the complimentary drinks). Guests may purchase tickets at wishbone2012.eventbrite.com.