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Hidden Gems: Meet Colleen Fitzsimmons-Wiviott of Start With Art

Today we’d like to introduce you to Colleen Fitzsimmons-Wiviott.

Hi Colleen, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I was born and raised in St. Louis and always had a passion for art as a kid. I was lucky enough to be exposed at a young age to the many arts organizations we have in St. Louis like the St. Louis Symphony, COCA, and the Saint Louis Art Museum to name a few. I wasn’t sure what a career in the arts looked like for me until I landed a summer job when I was 17 as a Teen Assistant at the Saint Louis Art Museum. There, I worked in the education department leading tours and art making workshops for their summer Youth smART program. This free program, which is still offered, provides community organizations in St. Louis with a museum and art making experience. Not only did I get to learn about and engage with works of art in the collection but I also got to work with children and make art. I was hooked! I continued to work at the museum every summer after that for the next four years. I was mentored by some amazing museum educators who I still turn to today for advice. The rest as they say is history.

I set out on a path to become a museum and art educator. This led me to study material culture in my American Studies program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I took classes that allowed me to study at the National Museum of Asian Art and Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. I was deeply inspired by learning from works of art first hand and wanted to make that experience accessible to children. During my years in D.C. I worked with the National Parks Service and at an art gallery to see where my passions might align. After college, I took a job teaching at a middle school in Newark, NJ to gain more classroom experience, something I felt I was lacking. After that challenging and rewarding year, I was ready to study museum and art education more fully. I began a Master’s program at Bank Street College of Education in New York City studying museum education and general childhood education. I credit this program to making me the educator I am today. I was challenged to think differently and focus on the whole child, something I didn’t experience in my own education growing up. I began freelance teaching at several museums like the Museum of Modern Art, the Rubin Museum of Art, and the Morgan Library and Museum. Once I graduated, I was hired full time as the Education Coordinator at El Museo del Barrio. A small but mighty community founded museum in East Harlem, El Museo del Barrio took me under their wing. I learned on the job and fast. While I only worked there for two years, my passion for community based education and early childhood education were born here. With a team of talented educators, we created Coqui Club, an early childhood museum-based program. It was exciting and daunting starting a program from the ground up. We were constantly shifting and adapting to make the program work for the community we aimed to serve, the parents and caregivers of young children in East Harlem. The bilingual program was a huge success and still is today. I felt honored to be a part of its founding.

Life brought me back to St. Louis, something I never would have expected but I’m thrilled to be back home. I spent the last four years as the Associate Educator of Youth and Family Programs at the Saint Louis Art Museum. A full circle moment! There I was responsible for the museum’s early childhood, family, and teen programming. When COVID-19 hit, I was tasked with recreating the museum’s Wee Wednesday program to a virtual platform. I had no experience in virtual programming and had my Mac laptop, a borrowed tripod, and a USB microphone to work with. What started as an experiment, led to the creation of over 35 virtual Wee Wednesday programs. Nine PBS even picked up the series to feature on their Teaching in Room Nine program. I never expected to essentially be producing a children’s television program in my home but the pandemic seemed to take a lot of us to places we never expected to go. I realized during this time that I wanted to focus on this early childhood audience and serving the St. Louis community more directly. I left my job and created Start With Art, my early childhood art education organization that provides consulting, workshops, and art parties. I began a partnership with Honeycomb, the children’s store and play space in the Botanical Heights neighborhood. Here, I found owners who were just as passionate about learning through play and experimentation with art at a young age as I was. I teach classes out of their space several times a month and put on art parties for groups and families around the city. My goal is to have my own studio space someday!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I became a parent about eight months before the pandemic hit. My field requires one to have a very flexible schedule, often working on weekends, nights, and holidays so you can better serve families when they are available. Once my son was born, this prospect of working at odd hours as much as I did became unsustainable. One of the reasons I left my full time job and the museum world, something I never expected, was because as a working parent I needed more flexibility and time to spend with my family. Working for myself has not been easy and I’ve questioned many times whether this was the right decision. But, I’m also able to work on my terms and take on projects that I truly believe in. While my working schedule looks very different and might seem odd to many, I’m able to fit my work around my life rather than the other way around. I may work late into the night when my child is sleeping, or take a phone call when I’m pushing my son on the swing at the playground, but I also know he gets to see me doing something I love while also being present as his mom. I realize this is an enormous privilege to be able to do this work in the way that I am and I’m grateful for that everyday.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
I created Start With Art to better serve the St. Louis community and beyond with a simple goal: to provide thoughtful and engaging art programming for young children that encourages a start with art. Why start with art? Art encourages fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, neural development, and problem solving abilities. Art provides an outlet for children to process their world, experiences, and emotions. Art encourages experimentation, imagination, and risk taking which are all important skills to foster in our modern world.

What kind of art do we create at Start With Art? You won’t find cookie cutter, step-by-step projects here. We’ll explore the process of making, rather than focusing on the end product. Children will dive into art mediums as artists do and will experiment with: Drawing using crayons, pencils, markers, pastels, and chalk. Painting using acrylics, watercolors, and nature based paints. Printmaking using stamps, stencils, and collagraph techniques. Sculpture using Model Magic, clay, homemade doughs, and recycled materials. Collage using glue, varying types of paper, and recycled materials. Mixed Media using all of the above! Collaborative Art where we will create something together.

What are the values that guide every Start With Art experience?
Creativity
Creativity is a skill we all need in multiple aspects of our lives. The early years are crucial in setting up the foundations for success in learning such as creative thinking and problem solving. Each art making experience is designed to be open ended and child led, helping each child discover their own creative process.

Social and Emotional Learning
At its core, making is a tool for self-expression. Every experience at Start With Art will ask children to think about their ideas, feelings, and inspirations. Making is also a tool for relaxation. I frequently utilizes sensory mindfulness techniques to engage students in the present moment.

Developmentally Appropriate
As a professionally trained educator, I have a strong foundation in child development. When developing an experience, facilitation techniques and tools will be chosen based on the child’s developmental phase. At the same time, all children move through these phases at a different pace. As a seasoned educator, I adapt programs to meet a child where they are today.

Play
Children learn through play. Every program, class, and workshop aims to create playful moments of joy. This where risks are taken and confidence is built.

Sustainability
As a parent, educator, and citizen of the planet, I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to be a thoughtful and caring steward of the Earth. When possible, experiences will utilize reusable materials and often draw on recycled materials. Utilizing recycled materials in art making is another way to expand on creative thinking and problem solving.

Accessibility
Art should be physically, mentally, and financially accessible to every child. I will develop each workshop based on a group’s needs. Finances shouldn’t be a barrier to art education. Feel empowered to reach out if you feel the investment is too great for at this time. We will work together to create a plan that feels comfortable. Art is for everyone.

In person workshops are offered at Honeycomb for children ages 2-6. Buzz Art Workshops are designed to create community, encourage socialization, confidence and of course create and get messy! These hour long workshops include welcome songs, an interactive read aloud, and an open ended art making experience. Open Studio times at Honeycomb allow for independent exploration of an art medium. Young artists ages 2 and up can move through multiple art making stations with me to create from their imagination.

Art Club is offered during the winter months virtually. This 30-minute interactive art class is designed for young artists ages 2-6. During this workshop, artists will participate in warm up activities, a guided exploration of a work of art, and a hands on art making prompt and demonstration. Art Club also takes field trips to local arts organizations for an in person element of the program.

Pricing:

  • $25/Buzz Art Workshop
  • $10/Open Studio

Contact Info:

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