As Plasmati recalled, “My daughter was doing all kinds of structured activities – swimming, piano. I was looking for something where she was completely free to be herself and express herself. I didn’t want to go into Manhattan and locally I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I started the studio myself with the types of classes that I was interested in for my daughter.”
Teaching out of her basement since 2010, Plasmati has created an art program called “The Art Studio for Kids.” There are two separate entrances to the studio and it is conveniently located in Flushing near plenty of parking.
Plasmati developed a website for the school called www.theartstudioforkids.com where interested parents can find information about the different classes and see examples of students’ artwork.
On the website Plasmati asserts, “The Art Studio for Kids is the only neighborhood art studio where kids are exposed to it all in ongoing 8-week sessions: clay, drawing/painting (includes pastels, charcoal, ink, acrylic, tempera, watercolors), sculpture, printmaking, 2&3D assemblage/construction and more.”
Each week the students are exposed to a new art medium. “All of the classes follow that format where the children do something different every week,” Plasmati explained. “Every week the kids are totally engaged and loving what they’re doing in being exposed to a new medium. They’re always learning something new. That’s the nice thing about it.”
Plasmati believes that the students also mature personally during these classes. “The kids unwittingly gain invaluable skills,” she described. “They don’t even realize that they’re learning how to problem solve creatively. They’re using critical thinking, decision making. They’re learning to collaborate with other children and these are things they use throughout life.”
Besides Plasmati, there are two other art teachers at the Studio who are both professional artists and have experience working with children. The teachers all teach 90 minutes classes which each cost $30. Since a session of classes at the Studio lasts for 8 weeks, the total cost to enroll is $240 plus a $15 supplies fee.
The classes are divided into age groups: 4-6 years, 7-10 years and children over the age of 10. The classes are also held at a variety of times during the week afterschool and on weekends.
According to Plasmati, the studio is located in a multi-cultural neighborhood, so her students come from different backgrounds. “We live in a diverse neighborhood,” she observed, “and the different ethnicities of the children are well represented at the studio.”
Besides a varied student body, Plasmati noted that the materials the children work with are also very diverse. “That’s another thing that makes us unique – the different materials we have here,” she said. “I remember a great clay class we did. We made African masks using a lot of natural materials like shells and grasses, turquoise. It was highly creative.”
Another occasion where materials played a pivotal role in the students’ artwork can be found on the Studio’s website. There is a photo of various pictures of pastoral scenes hung on a wall while nature-themed objects such as cattails, ferns and plastic ducks are situated in the foreground.
“The kids did that exhibit with pastel. They learned how to blend pastel which they loved using their fingers to blend,” Plasmati recounted. “To make it more creative for them, we told them to imagine some kind of background behind which the wall was white. Some kids put in mountains. Some kids put in sky with clouds.”
To gain more teaching experience, Plasmati has volunteered at PS 32 to assist the art teachers with their classes. She also takes art classes herself in mediums such as pottery and jewelry-design making. “In my spare time, I’m always gravitating to different art classes. In my own work, I’m very influenced by abstract, non-representational artists like (Wassily) Kandinsky, (Alexander) Calder and (Henri) Matisse.”
Most importantly, Plasmati makes the effort to understand students’ interests and desires. When Plasmati learned that a six year old student at another art school did not like a sculpting class, she reasoned, “Maybe the student didn’t like putting clay in her hands. Maybe she wasn’t in a lesson that was age-appropriate. There are just so many variables.”
As for the Studio’s future, Plasmati is developing more classes and said she takes requests for ideas. For example, Plasmati said one of her students asked if she could make a collaborative piece of art. Now Plasmati is brainstorming to create a class where the students all work on the same canvas. She also notes on her website that there will be an “upcoming clay-only workshop.”
After nearly three years of teaching, Plasmati has learned how fickle young children can be. “You don’t know with kids,” she commented. “They do something once or twice and then they don’t want to do it anymore.”
So when a mother approached Plasmati with her concern about paying for a class and then having her daughter possibly drop out, Plasmati invited the girl to come to the Studio for a trial class. “The girl was six years old and the mother was worried about paying all that money and then having her daughter quit,” she recalled. “So we gave her a trial class for the first time to see what would happen and the kid loved it.”
For anyone interested in having their children take classes at The Art Studio for Kids, they should visit the Studio’s website, www.theartstudioforkids.com, or call Valerie Plasmati at (917) 599-8684.