Drop by the ArtQuest gallery at the Green Hill Center any Wednesday night and you'll see something rare in a high-tech, overbooked world: families up to their elbows in paint, clay, pottery and fun. They're not professional artists, and they come from comfortable and not-so-affluent homes, from an array of family configurations and from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. But what these ArtQuest families share is the joy of creation and the pleasure of an evening together, sans TV, video games and non-stop cell phoning.
"Our guiding principle is that we want people to come in and experiment, learn by doing," says ArtQuest director Mary Young. "We're not saying 'when you finish you'll have this or this.' It's all about being creative." ArtQuest offers an astonishing number of ways to give a voice to that personal creativity. Both an exhibit gallery and a hands-on work space, it includes a giant eight-foot loom, an architecture corner, a full clay studio designed by noted potter Tom Soulmalainen, a full painting studio, a project area for things like calligraphy, origami or printmaking, and a puppet theater. While Wednesday nights are ear-marked for family time, throughout the week young visitors flock to the gallery and tackle their own art projects.
"We give them a tour when they walk in and they begin their journey, starting in the painting room," Young says. "Typically the adult doesn't want to get engaged, and they'll sit on the side. But pretty soon they become as engaged in art making as the kids do. They enjoy it. I hear 'I wish they'd had this when we were kids' so often. We say, feel free, do what you feel like."
The ArtQuestMobile takes the gallery's hands-on art appreciation to the community, where artists offer student and teacher workshops. Traveling Trunks, a popular Green Hill program, features trunks filled with goodies focused on such diverse topics as animals in art, Carolina artists and American Indian art. Summer camps, after-school programs and birthday parties are widely popular. And most recently, ArtQuest has partnered with the Hemphill branch of the public library in an innovative program aimed at reading readiness through art.
"Our motivation is to keep our audiences coming back into the gallery, to have them become engaged in looking at and appreciating art," Young says. "We serve maybe 18,000 kids a year in the gallery, and more through outreach, and bringing more people into the galleries through the kids."