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DECATUR — Naturally curious about art, Eisenhower High School freshman Elliott Henson has been wondering how she can make it a part of her future.

“I’m really interested in painting and photography,” she said.

Because of her interest in learning more about different types of art, her art teacher suggested she attend the SPARK! program through Old King’s Orchard Community Center, 815 N. Church St.


Henry Blunt, 8, blows so that glass will be formed at Prairie Fire Glass in Monticello. Blunt and other children visited the shop to learn more about different types of art through the Old King's Orchard Community Center SPARK! program. 

The OKO program gives young artists the opportunity to learn more about art as a career. On one of their recent field trips to a Millikin University photography class, Henson learned different techniques to create new art in a medium in which she already has an interest.

More than a year ago, SPARK! instructors J.D. Curce, Jesse Blunt and Lucy Brownlee began teaching local students about opportunities in the art field. The three instructors are working artists that wanted to contribute to the youth in the community.

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Jim Downey sticks glass into the furnace to create the glass shape at Prairie Fire Glass in Monticello.

Blunt is a tattoo artist by trade but found a calling in helping children achieve their dreams. “I had inquired about trying to put together an after-school or an art program for kids,” he said. “One thing lead to another and Lucy and I decided to put together an instruction program.”

This is the second year for the SPARK! program. Last year the group focused on art instruction in a classroom environment. This year they ventured out into the art trades and to the people working in the field. “We thought it would keep the kids more engaged,” Blunt said.

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Glass art created by Jim Downey is shown at Prairie Fire Glass in Monticello.

The size of the group can range from three to nearly 15. The attendance depends on the student’s performance in school and extracurricular activities. Ages range from 13 to 18 years old. They meet at OKO on the first and third Thursdays, but take a break during the summer.

SPARK! is one of the youth programs offered through the community center. Children wanting to attend the art classes can register through the center. The instructors charge a $50 yearly fee to join the fun. “That is to give people the accountability,” Blunt said. “If you have some money in it, you are going to show up.”

OKO SPARK! offers scholarships to help with the fee.

Brownlee is the owner of Lucy’s Airbrush, a custom automotive detailer. “The kids love it as much as we do,” she said about SPARK!. “What an opportunity to go and see all these businesses.”

The group has visited local art businesses such as Gallery 510, The Glass House, Millikin University art department and Heroic Age Studios. The children do spend time in the classroom creating projects from an art instructor.

“But we had a hard time keep kids involved and interested,” Blunt said. “It is not always the most fun thing to see yourself struggling with a new art medium, especially in front of strangers.”

SPARK! is still in the growing stages. The instructors continue to need funds, ideas, support, more instructors. “And we need the kids to know this is going on,” Brownlee said.

The program has enlisted the help of others in the community, such as the Decatur Area Arts Council. SPARK! is a program following the arts council’s mission of introducing and promoting the arts as well as enhancing arts educational opportunities.

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Heated glass is shaped at Prairie Fire Glass in Monticello.

“They are a group of local artist that offer more personal training and guidance to young people who are interested in growing their talents,” said Jerry Johnson, executive director for the arts council. “They are simple classes, but they are a little more advanced. The idea is to help young people to improve their skills.”

The arts council provides SPARK! with grants to help keep the prices for supplies, instructors and travel at a reasonable level. The children have been known to meet for classes at the downtown arts council building.

“We do what we can to promote the program and connect them with other artists,” Johnson said.

SPARK!’s latest field trip was to glass artist Jim Downey’s Prairie Fire Glass  in Monticello. The children had the opportunity to learn about the glass blowing process as well as create their own ornament. Downey discussed the physics and chemical reactions used in creating beautiful glass pieces. “Red does not play well with others,” he said about mixing hues.

Henson invited her classmate Summer Sadowski to the recent SPARK! field trip. Sadowski, 15, likes to paint, but has found an interest in computer art. “I like sculpting and animating things,” she said.

Sadowski is hoping to design graphic arts video games when she is older.

“She said it was art related things and I’m really into that field,” Sadowski said about her friend’s experience with SPARK!. “They go to all different places and I was hoping they would go to those places I would be interested in.”

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"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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