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Mar 2002 / young minds :: email this story to a friend

Community and Collaboration
By Jason Wallace Triefenbach

In the Loop. South City. The Central West End. At pet stores, restaurants, and art openings. Anywhere Jenna Bauer goes, she seems to happen upon children she knows, current and former students who've benefited from her tutelage. They run to her for a hug or to tell her they've enrolled in a class she's teaching at COCA. She asks them their opinion of the art on the walls. She chats with their parents, shares stories about scraped knees or loose teeth. And she's sure to update them on the progress of her own organization, The South City Open Studio and Gallery For Children. For Jenna Bauer — arts instructor, playground monitor, educator — is a woman on a mission.

"SCOSAG," she says, "will be a place where children can wander in and hang out, where kids enrolled in classes don't have to wait until the next scheduled period to work on their project. They can spend as much time as they'd like exploring possibilities during Open Studio hours."

After two years at Indiana University pursuing an education degree, Jenna came to the realization that the traditional school system was not a place she could find fulfillment working "for the next thirty years." So she moved back to St. Louis to enroll in Webster University's Fine Arts program, where she discovered the kind of freedom and creative permissibility she feels is missing from other avenues of life.

the little gnome building Yet she's insistent on sticking with her roots in education: "I don't believe in making art the scene where an artist is locked in his studio alone, engrossed and tortured by his next masterpiece. Art school was such a rewarding experience that it would be selfish of me not to continue to share that environment with others." So she has continued to share: teaching art classes at the Center of Contemporary Art, the Pointe at Ballwin Commons, and The New City School. New City, she says, has given her experience with administrative responsibilities like budgeting, enrollment, and insurance, while allowing her to experiment with creative methods of class format and subject matter. Now she's ready to strike out on her own, having tentatively secured use of the Gatehouse in Tower Grove Park (the little gnome building right off the park's Arsenal Street entrance). Jenna hopes to be open by April, starting with classes for 8- to 15-year-olds.

"Early teens are underserved in this type of programming," she says. "Plus I'd like to have a strong focus on the diversity of the area, since hopefully a lot of the students will be walking through the park from the surrounding neighborhoods." She plans to begin with a limited — not limiting — scope. "I'm very adamant about maintaining a low teacher-to-student ratio. I want to move beyond 'classroom art' into a situation that acknowledges the fact that process not only affects outcome, but is an art piece in itself. Keeping the size of classes to six or eight kids at the most allows much more constructive interaction, not only coming from the teacher, but between students as well."

A particularly interesting aspect of Ms. Bauer's plans is the involvement of "professional artists" in the structure of the programming.

"It's a gap I'd like to help close, so that it benefits both artists and students," she says. "Linking the art community with families and other civic organizations gives exposure to the artists and provides good role models for the community. Here are people making a living by way of an aesthetic nature." This will also keep the programming up to date with contemporary art practices, she says.

"Take drawing, for instance. Instead of the [student] artist deciding where the line should fall, let's use another process, which might range from logical formulas to random circumstance. Again, the process is a method of learning."

A preteen Black Mountain College? Artists will not only teach children, but exhibit alongside them. "Hopefully, we will at some point have a space in which a permanent gallery will be feasible. Until then, I want to organize shows in area restaurants and other businesses, and in the park itself. Artists will have the opportunity to design classes that fit with their own work methods, then we'll show their artwork in conjunction with students' work. The whole process will be a collaboration."

Such enthusiasm is contagious.

For more information on classes, or to find out how you can help, contact Jenna at

Jason Wallace Triefenbach is an artist living and working in St. Louis. He also sings with The Electric.

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