Art & Action

Outreach Art Programming for Children and Teens

Over that last 20 years, Open Studio Project has proudly partnered with many local organizations that have allowed us to extend our reach to the youth of Evanston and beyond that we may not have been able to reach otherwise. We have enjoyed a 15 year partnership with Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.), and have partnered with the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Evanston Police Department, PEER Services, and many more, in order to provide outreach art programming for children and teens.  

Our Goals:

To help young people find creative ways to help themselves:

Open Studio Project provides a safe space where young people who are faced with very real life challenges can learn how to use expressive art to access their own creative inner resources. Through collaboration, our organizations augment each other’s strengths and create a community environment, which serves the whole teen.

To provide outreach art programming for children and teens that is accessible and relevant:

We seek to make the deep benefits of art and writing available to youth whose circumstances or behaviors have caused them strife or to feel barred from other places and situations.  

To work together to create a healthy community:

Through collaboration with our partners, we augment each other’s strengths and create a community environment, which serves the whole team. We provide safe, engaging encounters with creative art-making, and we tailor the program focus to the specific needs of each group we serve.

To advocate to make teen voices heard:

We create a show of teen participants’ art and writing show at the end of each workshop series end. These exhibitions educate the public by revealing the truths of youths’ experiences in a highly direct and powerful way: by sharing the teens’ own words and images. Our experience with young people has shown us that these exhibits also increase the self-esteem of the participants. It allows each of them to be individually seen and appreciated by their community (as well as their families) for who they authentically are and for what they truly feel (which is often transformed and contrary to their previous expressions).

Why the Open Studio Process is so effective with youth:

1. Adults work alongside teens

The facilitators, creating alongside the youths, model how they themselves use art and writing to deal with their own strong emotions and difficult decision-making.

2. Voluntary participation = freedom and responsibility

Though kids are encouraged to read aloud what they have written, they are not forced to do so, creating safety by permitting them to decide how much they are willing to share. Freedom of choice also fosters self-confidence and an increased sense of personal responsibility.

3. No comment or criticism = learning to listen to oneself

Crucial to our sessions is the rule that no one is allowed to comment in any way on art or writing created in the group. As a result, each participant is safe to encounter and express truths in his/her own time and in his/her unique way. In this atmosphere, with no expressions of judgment and no externally imposed aesthetics to live up to, kids often move very deeply into emotional territories where they might not otherwise be able to go.

4. It feels great to make art

Experience has shown that adolescents will enthusiastically work with their personal issues using art and creative, often metaphorical, writing. We are continually impressed with the concentration and emotional depth revealed by what these youths choose to share in this safe but open space.


The Open Studio Process is very flexible and works to support and empower people in a wide range of circumstances. Within our after-school programs, we tailor our specific objectives to the common issues and needs of the participating youth.

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