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Lila Creative Community fosters a self-directed art experience

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A cheerful red door pops out on Grand Avenue in Grover Beach and beckons you. Inside the cozy house's main room is a brick fireplace, colorful paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and glass jars filled with crayons and colored pencils, alongside baskets filled with cardboard bits and twigs, and almost any other art supply one can imagine.

Lori Wolf Grillias, owner of the space, Lila Creative Community, wanted her students to have plenty of options when she opened the studio in July. For years, Wolf Grillias, whose own work has been shown locally at galleries like the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, taught art to children in schools in the Santa Maria area through a local group called Children's Creative Project. But she decided that she wanted a space where a smaller group of artists could congregate.

EXPLORE Artists at Lila Creative Community are encouraged to hop around from medium to medium and project to project rather than halting work completely when inspiration for one piece dries up. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • EXPLORE Artists at Lila Creative Community are encouraged to hop around from medium to medium and project to project rather than halting work completely when inspiration for one piece dries up.

"It's really hard to get to know the kids in a 'person way,'" Wolf Grillias said of teaching art in the classroom. "Forty-five minutes is a difficult time slot for the creative process."

FACILITATOR Lori Wolf Grillias never teaches a directed drawing or painting lesson at Lila Creative Community in Arroyo Grande. Instead the artist allows the student to lead their creative work and facilitates and offers input as requested. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • FACILITATOR Lori Wolf Grillias never teaches a directed drawing or painting lesson at Lila Creative Community in Arroyo Grande. Instead the artist allows the student to lead their creative work and facilitates and offers input as requested.

At Lila Creative Community, they don't have classes. Instead, Wolf Grillias offers open studio time in nearly two-hour increments for different age groups (from toddler to adult), as well as specialized workshops focusing on mixed media, sewing, book making, painting to music, printmaking, and more.

But don't expect to paint the same bowl of fruit as everyone else in class. Rather than offering a step-by-step directed art lesson, Wolf Grillias has her students pick a medium that calls to them—wooden blocks, water color, thread—and work on their own project at their own pace. And if they hit a wall creatively, they can put the piece down and pick up another project, like a T-shirt or wishing stick. If needed, Wolf Grillias can step in to offer input or show a student a technique or skill.

"It's a community, a creative center," Wolf Grillias said. "It's definitely non-competitive. I don't direct art lessons; I want to facilitate where their heart is. It's more personable."

Can things get messy with so many options and media? Sure. But messy is where magic often happens, according to Wolf Grillias.

"Having availability, but not mayhem—it's a fine line," she said. "There's an aesthetic way of setting up the different materials so that it draws their interest innately."

At a recent session with two brothers, ages 3 and 5, Wolf Grillias began their time together by playing a game with sticks on a board with a grid, which led to talking about straight and curved lines. Then the boys did a printmaking activity using paint, paper, and old gift cards before building structures with cardboard.

Wolf Grillias hopes that the environment at Lila Creative Community will allow people to see the possibilities within themselves for making art.

"For so many years I've heard people say, 'I can't make art,'" Wolf Grillias said. "I firmly believe anyone can create. Art isn't just making things look real. It's about people coming together and enjoying the creative process." Δ

Arts Writer Ryah Cooley is scribbling away at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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