Space One Eleven

Where people and art and people meet

words and photos by Beau Gustafson

Margot Wade, a teacher and education coordinator at Space One Eleven, says “this is what it is like here. We provide a nurturing/learning environment and the kids create art and solve problems. Everybody thinks and communicates differently and if you nurture and encourage the different ways they think, amazing things start to happen. They surprise you, and even better they surprise themselves.” Rob Clifton, one of the other three teachers, chimes in: “We have a kid here who created an animated periodic table by anthropomorphizing each of the elements and creating a cartoon character for each. Not only that but each of the elements interacted with each other with the qualities of that the element.  He loved science and it was great to see this once quiet shy kid transformed  into a kid with enthusiasm and self confidence because he was doing something he knew and loved.”

“I was always taken aback by the lack of encouragement in school and I was always the kind of kid who needed someone to cheer me on to get me motivated to accomplish something. We give them encouragement, bring in art books by different artists and try to expand the ways they are looking and seeing, ideas breed more ideas,” says Gil Weingarten. “We have four teachers here,” says Rob, “Margot is kind of the Mom figure that is always encouraging and just like a Mom who hangs everything up on the fridge. I am kind of the Dad that says, ‘Okay, this is great but you need to refine this idea. Blake and Gil are kind of the big brothers. They relate so well with the kids and really help spur on new ideas and creativity as well as refining the conceptual side of individual projects. We really have a great team.”

“It all began around 25 years ago.” says Peter Prinz, founder of Space One Eleven with Anne Arrasmith, “We saw the need for an organization that supported artists and the arts. Our feeling is that we have great artists here and if you want a vibrant city, you have to provide a structure and organization for artists so that you don’t have a brain drain with the talent leaving the city for more opportunity and ways to get recognition. Not only that but we bring artists from around the country to show their work, and it is symbiotic in nature because they teach the kids too! It is a great figure eight of learning. We have received grants in the past from the National Endowment for the Arts, and national recognition, not based on our kids program, but for the quality of our  art exhibitions.”

Says Anne Arrasmith, “You have to realize that when Peter and I started on this learning experience, and it wasn’t always easy, we chose to move into our current location on 2nd Avenue North from the building we started in on 111 21st Ave South, it was not the place that it is today. As a matter of fact, 20 years ago we had a hard time encouraging people to come to our classes. But then an amazing thing happened. You’ve heard of outreach programs like ours, but for us it was the community here that reached out for us. They wanted and needed us and they saved us. We provided classes in art and they provided the beating heart. Now we have kids from all over the city, whose parents bring them because they like the experience their kids have here, but in the beginning we were supported by the families who lived in Metro Gardens and the surrounding neighborhood. We continue to serve underprivileged schools and programs around the city ”

“I keep coming back and teaching here,” says Blake Showers. “Because the atmosphere here is so cool. You don’t find this kind of kindness and cooperation in projects anywhere else I’ve been.” He smiles sheepishly, “I kind of don’t like to leave.”

“I grew up in Inglenook near the airport and Space One Eleven opened up my eyes to a whole new world of art and experiences,” says Derrick Franklin, one of the original 13 from 23 years ago. “Working on a big project like the mural near the art museum, we talked to architects, city planners, and had to make over 22,000 tiles to make it work. It was a true collaboration. Space One Eleven was instrumental in me pursuing a degree in architecture and industrial design. For me, it always comes back to art.”

“Being involved in a project bigger than themselves or bigger than what they could do alone is still what we try to get the kids involved in,” says Margot, “Recently we worked on a mural with REV (the new name for Operation New Birmingham). The kids worked for three months perfecting their ideas and working as a team to paint the mural. It was a great learning experience for them as well as us on how to, not just create something for themselves, but to sustain their attention and work with each other to make the mural. Each kid had his own four foot by eight foot section and it was their responsibility to create something good. We hope to inspire the community to do more of these murals and we are always looking for a new place to work on projects.”

“In an era where budgets are lean, and money hard to find,” says Peter Prinz. “I like to remind people that these opportunities that we provide directly feed the hearts and minds of the city. We provide a sanctuary for students to learn to communicate as artists, as well as artists a place to show their work. They make Birmingham a better place just as much or more as a filled–in pothole. They attract new business, and attract a quality of life that touches people in every endeavor. The kids we teach today come back like Derrick Franklin and are the people building and influencing our city in our future.”

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