The diverse careers enjoyed by graduates of The Art Effect illustrate the rather surprising effect of nurturing artistic abilities.
Graduates of the Poughkeepsie-based, non-profit, arts education program currently work in animation, teach art, design stores and museums, and work as illustrators and photographers in film production and textile design.
“They go on to every art job you can possibly imagine and 700 more that you can’t,” says Todd Poteet, Director of the Art Institute at The Art Effect. “We have this one girl who’s a scientific botanic photographer for sensitive reef areas. She works with a group of scientists and goes to these reefs that are endangered. They can’t take samples because the reef is endangered, so she photographs the information they are trying to study back at the lab. It’s a permanent vacation. What a cool job.”
Poteet and Art Effect’s development director Anna Langdell have plenty of success stories to share. One of Langdell’s favorites was a shy girl who first attended the program at 13 and preferred to sit in the back of the class. Now she’s confident enough to teach an after-school arts program in the Poughkeepsie School District.
“We were always trying to draw her out of her shell,” says Langdell. “When she started making films she also had to act in her own films. So, she learned how to find her voice and have more presence. As a teenager she stayed with the program, worked her way through to the upper level courses, then went on to college. Now she’s come back to Poughkeepsie. She’s running a film cooperative and is a teaching artist in the Poughkeepsie schools. She’s come full circle.” Although the Art Effect has technically only existed since January 1 of this year, it’s a merger of two long standing, Poughkeepsie arts programs, Mill Street Loft and Spark Media Project, which both helped students learn art and life skills. Art Effect programs currently enroll about 400 students in Red Hook, Millbrook, and Poughkeepsie summer camps and between 700 and 800 students in various programs throughout the year. While programs may focus on mastering a particular art form — painting, sculpting, drawing, animation, filmmaking, or even preparing a college portfolio — the program’s overall success has been attributed to its focus on the individual student.
“What I really noticed while working here is the individual attention that each teacher pays to the students,” says Langdell. “It’s a very low teacher-to-student ratio and every time I walk through our classes I hear real one-on-one conversation. ‘What were you trying to do? Why did you do that? Have you tried it this way or this way? You try that and I’ll come back in 20 minutes.’ It’s never an umbrella task for all students. This is what we’re doing today, now go. It’s all very, very individual and it shows in what they create.”
The organization has a core staff of about ten full-time workers and only about six administrative positions, but employs between 40 and 50 teaching artists who conduct courses, teach after school programs in the city school district or at Hudson Valley libraries and community centers. Besides sharing technical expertise, these artists provide students with a glimpse of what it’s like to work at your craft.
“We have a program called MADLab, for middle school to early high school kids, that explores different art careers. This week they’re looking at sculpture. So, they’re talking to a couple of local sculptors. They’re learning how to make sculpture out of found materials and then they are creating their own work of art. They are spending the next couple of weeks learning what it’s like to be a sculptor in the Hudson Valley.”
The program offers some students paid jobs so they don’t have to choose between art and working at an entry level job. It’s an opportunity not only to create, but to get paid while brushing up on work skills.
“They don’t get paid if they don’t come in on time,” says Langdell. “They don’t get paid if they don’t submit their work sheets. They learn how to work in a team. They’re learning all these skills while also creating something. It’s a nice two-fer. The focus is not just art and creativity, it’s also developing life skills that are so important.”
The program offers help building college portfolios and starting resumes. While working with Forge Media, Art Effect’s filmmaking apprenticeship division, students can get practical experience making commercial films. Students are paid working on an actual set. Remaining profits are donated back to the program.
A work by a student from the Art Institute, a pre-college program for teens to fine tune their art portfolios.
“They help with with the actual filming,” says Langdell. “They come on set, they work the cameras and the sound. They know exactly what to do. Then they help us with post production as well, color correction, fixing the sound, and filling in scenes that are missing. They’re learning on the job. We’ve got a whole group of really skilled filmmakers, age 14 to 25, that we can call on and we can help them go on to other things. It’s a really nice model of helping kids break into the workforce.”
One of the program’s young filmmakers recently won a student award at the Tribeca Film Festival for her film Santa Woman. Art Effect also organizes an international Reel Expressions Teen Film Festival.
Students who want to study art in college need a portfolio. The Art Institute pre-college portfolio program for teens ages 14-19 helps students fine tune their portfolios, then offers a chance to engage with college reps on a Portfolio Day. According to Langdell, the response has been enthusiastic. Since 2000, program graduates have been offered over $45 million in merit-based scholarships to leading colleges, universities, and art schools.
The Art Effect plans to extend arts programs throughout the Hudson Valley, especially in urban areas, so more children can achieve their personal best—whether that’s becoming a working artist or developing interpersonal skills.
“We’re really focused on personal and professional development,” says Langdell. “It’s all about each one of our kids developing into the best that they can be.”