Lillstreet crafts new home


Kids create in pint-sized studios


There are only two rules at the "Clay, Song and Stories" class at the new home of the Lillstreet Art Center: Don't eat the clay and keep the pointy end of the tools facing down.

That's all it takes to move eight young artists and their parents or caregivers-including my daughter and me-to the kid-size table to pound, roll, shape, poke and squish red lumps of clay into, well, whatever they wanted.

"We want to get the kids' imaginations flowing," says Melanie Brown, co-director of children's programs. "We encourage them to create their own ideas and not to be afraid to try. In the process, they also begin to learn how to share, solve problems and identify colors and shapes. There's all sorts of lessons going on."

After 28 years in Lincoln Park, the former Lill Street Gallery has renamed itself Lillstreet Arts Center and relocated to a new $3 million, 24,000-square-foot home at 4401 N. Ravenswood, Chicago. The new gallery includes 14 classrooms, state-of-the-art equipment and two rooms specifically designed for children. There also are 20 artists' studios, a main floor gallery space, and a gallery shop that sells artists' work. An additional 13,000 square feet of space in the building will be rented to local artists, architects and artisans.

"This is a nice place to come and be completely messy and let the kids experiment and create whatever they want," says Julie Dingens, a Chicago mother of four who attends classes with her 3-year-old son. "It's also great one-on-one time with David, a time to be creative and not worry about everything else that needs to get done."

Lillstreet has a long history of children's arts programming. About 150 children, ranging in age from 2 to 17, attend clay, drawing, painting, multimedia and other classes each week. Family workshops and adult clay, metalsmithing, drawing and painting classes also are available.

"It's wonderful when we get kids who are really young," says Brown. "Around 7 or 8, most kids become aware of their peers and they're more self-conscious. They might want to make whatever their neighbor is making. But toddlers are still in a wonderful experimental phase. They might make something and then smash it and start over. They don't have to produce something. It's just good fun."

Chicago dad Kevin Elliott, who lives two blocks from the studio and attends classes with his 2½-year-old son, agrees. "Gavin really enjoys art, drawing and coloring and we want to encourage that," he says. "We want to give him more and more experiences to meet different people and get exposure to different social settings. This is just a natural extension of play."

For information on the new Lillstreet Art Center or to register for classes, call (773) 769-4226 or visit Monica Ginsburg

Kids Eat Chicago

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