Walking up the darkened stairs with walls painted bright colors, I wasn't sure what would await me up at the top. Glitter and paint were speckled on the floor and seemed to light my way upwards as I made my way to the spacious second floor studio of Room 13, a student-run art classroom managed by a group of middle school students from Charles Eliot Middle School in Altadena. The room looked well-loved and well-used, the walls filled with artwork, painting, drawing and sculptures, with lots of natural light and table space for creativity to happen. Lest you think that the kids are allowed to run amok, there is an adult present to keep a bit of structure and help as a mentor for the young artists. Amber Tilden, who has been the AiR (Artist-in-Residence) at Room 13 ever since it opened 4 years ago, has the happy task of providing guidance and inspiration for the students and is an artist herself. I said a quick hello to her as I gingerly sat in a child-sized chair which I quickly regretted upon realizing it was completely covered in glitter.
Loud chatter and laughter greeted me, as well as a curious gazes, but they were soon engrossed in the important task at hand -- making and designing custom outfits with the help of guest teacher A. Laura Brody, who, armed with a scissor holster and stapler, was ready to do battle with a long length of lavender tulle. With a few deft movements of her hands, she pleated the tulle and stapled the edges. Within a matter of minutes, she had created the most perfect ballerina tutu, with tulle rosettes and complete with a sash, all without sewing or pinning. Staple draping, (a specialty of hers), is one of the fastest and easiest ways to create your own clothing and patterns using fabric and staples, she declares. And she proceeded to show me by taking a simple length of fabric, which was a pretty purple print of flying cranes, and per the student's wishes of a kimono, draped the fabric around her shoulders, made a few snips at the neckline to create a collar and lapel, then fashioned long, flowing sleeves, and that simple length of fabric became a casual chic and stylish kimono. "The body tells you what to do," she says. "You just follow what it wants to do." Not to be outdone, another student asks for a turban to go with her tunic dress and cape. Laura gladly obliged, showing her a simple way using the method of crocheting, only using a long length of fabric and knotting it together, which became the foundation for a lovely wrap for her head. Another student is busy attaching a bat emblem to his cape, and Laura shows him an easy way to staple it on.
Room 13 is not your ordinary art classroom. There are no grades, no set projects, nor are there strict rules about what or what not to create. There is only the express feeling that whatever you create, it is within a completely criticism-free and non-judgmental space. Even though it may be located in a school, it functions distinctly as its own unique entity. First started in a rural area in Scotland by a young girl who wanted to make art in her free time at school, she invited her friends and they would make art in a classroom after school - Room 13, but was told she would need an adult present. They found an artist but was only able to keep him if the students could pay him. They came up with the brilliant solution of taking photos for their school in exchange for a smaller fee than what the school was paying for an outside photographer, and they continued to fundraise through selling their artwork and applying for grants, becoming self-sustaining. That was the model for many Room 13's to come. There are now over 100 Room 13's around the world, and the first Room 13 in the United States was brought by members of the Light Bringer Project, a non-profit organization in Pasadena which also organizes the Pasadena Doo Dah parade and Pasadena Chalk Festival.
More Room 13's in the area are in the making, and there are plenty of reasons why your child's school should have one:
10. Room 13 is self-sustaining and can run itself when up and functioning properly.
9. Nothing digital can replace the act of putting pencil or paints to paper or molding something from clay- the tactile and sensory forms of drawing, painting and sculpting. It may be old-school, but it is the foundation of any young artist's training.
8. Room 13 acts as a supplemental art program which can complement an existing art program, filling in where a traditional art program has gaps. It can include sewing, needle-felting, crocheting, woodworking, jewelry-making, fashion, and photography, to name a few areas that you don't see traditionally taught at school.
7. Room 13 creates an open atmosphere of artist-peers, with the sky's the limit concerning creativity. When you're surrounded by other like-minded students making art, the spirit of collaboration and creativity grows exponentially.
6. Room 13 students work alongside an adult artist, who provides the experience and guidance to help provide a glimpse into what it means to be a working artist.
5. Room 13 helps students learn the business aspect of making art and how to be a self-sustaining enterprise.
4. Room 13 artists are free to be themselves, free to express themselves, without judgement from authority figures.
3. Room 13 students learn how to work together as a team and make decisions for the common good.
2. Room 13 gives students confidence in achieving their goals.
1. Room 13 teaches students to be proud of their art and their work and support their fellow artists. Students learn they are not just making art in a bubble - they make art that gets shown in community coffee shops and local galleries and they learn the joys of sharing their artwork with the outside world.
Even though Room 13 may be located in a school, the students are there by their own choice. As Amber told me, the beauty of a Room 13 as opposed to a traditional classroom, is that if the kids act unruly or disruptive, they are told to leave. "It's a privilege to be here, and not a right," she says.
If you would like more information on Room 13, you can visit their site http://room13international.org. For more information about the Light Bringer Project and their role in bringing Room 13 to the United States, visit their site http://lightbringerproject.com/room-13-usa. Amber Tilden's art website is http://www.tildenart.com. For more information about A. Laura Brody's Staple Draping, her website is http://www.dreamsbymachine.com.