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