DECATUR – She may not have the clothes or experience yet, but Cassi Sklenka was thrilled with the chance to show off her designer skills.

Though only 8 years old, Sklenka has drawn a selection of the clothes she hopes to one day design. And on Saturday afternoon, she had the perfect opportunity to learn more about the arts and even display some of her work.

Kindergartners through high school seniors from across the state had the chance to display their works alongside the works of Millikin University arts students as part of the “Spotlight: A Children's Celebration of Art and Community” at the Kirkland Fine arts Center.

Whether it was photography or paintings, approximately 500 pieces of art from Spotlight participants were displayed and open to those participating and their families.

The event was a collaboration between Millikin and the Illinois PTA, the state affiliation of the National Parent Teacher Association, which supports arts in education.

“These kids have so many talents, and we want them to be able to show it off,” said Peg Staehlin, president of Illinois PTA.

Along with the art presentation, students and their families were offered an assortment of workshops, with topics that included literature, performance art, music, visual arts and adult information. The workshops were conducted by PTA members as well as Millikin faculty and students and event partners.

Laura Ledford, dean of the university's College of Fine Arts, was contacted several months ago about the opportunity for Millikin to host the event. It was an opportunity the university embraced.

“It's a great opportunity for these kids to get to exhibit their work, as well as a a great opportunity for kids to experience a college campus,” Ledford said.

Along with the opportunity to help the students, the event offered a chance for Millikin to show itself off to hundreds of potential students, something that was not lost on administrators.

“It's not a hard sale, but it's a great chance for Millikin to get its name out there to these students and show them all the great opportunities we can provide to them,” Ledford said.

The need for events such as Spotlight has become even more important for students, as education cuts have affected many school's arts and music programs.

“Art needs to be a part of their lives,” Staehlin said, adding the arts allow children to strengthen their creative thinking, individuality and peer support.

The chance to work on their art and display it was a hit with both students and families, the latter saying they were thrilled with the chance to support their family members pursue their artistic creativity.

“She loves this... if she could make these clothes already, she would,” said Michelle Sklenka, a member of PTA and mother of Cassi. She later said she has begun to help her daughter with sewing with the idea to help Cassi get closer to her dream.

With the success on Saturday, Staehlin was open to Spotlight being more than a onetime event.

“We hope to see this become a long tradition at Millikin,” she said.|(217) 421-7985

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