Art show displays work of Valley's youngest artists

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

Art is everywhere when parents walk into the Carver Community Center to pick their children up from the busy after-school program. Nearly every flat surface is covered with items like paint brushes, crayons and artwork in varying stages of completion.

All school year long the 60-70 kids enrolled in Art in the Afternoon work on their art. And for the 10th straight year, their work will be up for the public to see and bid on. The annual Art in the Afternoon Art Show opens at 6 p.m. May 8 at the Black Mountain-Tyson Library, where the artists and their friends and families will see their work displayed for the first time. The show runs through mid-June.

Mason LaMotte, left and Sophie Day put the finishing touches on projects at Art in the Afternoon on April 24.

Kids in the program, like Black Mountain Primary School second-grader Sophie Day, are looking forward to the event.

“I’m excited about the art show,” she said, holding a stuffed animal she sewed. “It will be fun to see the work of others, and my work too.”

Sophie was not familiar with sewing when she first created her green stuffed creature she named “Wiggles.” Trying new things is what she likes most about Art in the Afternoon, she said.

“It challenges you,” she said. “I didn’t know I could sew, and I was able to make this.”

Wiggles will be one of about 1,200 pieces of art that the kids made, said program founder Stephanie Sulzman. The works will be available for sale through silent auction.

“The silent auction began a few years ago to get the kids involved with helping our community at a young age," Sulzman said. "They have seen how when people come together for a common purpose, a big difference can made in the lives of others."

Every year the art show donates the money raised to a different cause, such as Rusty's Legacy, a Marion shelter that rescues dogs from high-kill animal shelters, and Haywood Street Respite, an Asheville facility that provides a home-like setting for the homeless. This year proceeds will go toward a new playground at Black Mountain Primary School, Sulzman said. 

Finn Traylor adds detail to a clay figure that he created during Art in the Afternoon.

"Black Mountain Primary has been so supportive of our program over the last 10 years," she said. "I'm not affiliated with the school at all, but they have always been helpful. I reached out to them and asked what needs they had this year, and the playground sort of jumped out."

When Sulzman co-founded the Art in the Afternoon after-school program in 2008, there were about 16 kids enrolled, with about six kids showing up on the average day. Today about half the 60-plus kids enrolled show up every day. Teaching and watching over them are Sulzman and four additional staff members.

"Our goal is not to prepare kids to be professional artists necessarily, but to be creative thinkers and problem solvers and have a zest for being original," Sulzman said. "We also focus on teaching them to use their voices to resolve conflict in a peaceful way by modeling conflict resolution."

Though Art in the Afternoon gives parents a place for their children to go in Black Mountain after school, "this is so much more than a child care center," Sulzman said. 

Mason LaMotte, a third-grader at Black Mountain Primary, has been attending the program for four years. He would definitely recommend it to others, he said. 

"I like it because I've been working (at school) all day, and I feel a lot more free once I get here," he said. "Once we get started on our art project that day, I feel connected with the other kids because a lot of times we're working on things together."

One of those items is a large quilt that will be displayed during the art show. The project was a collaboration between kids in the program and Care Partners in Asheville, Sulzman said. 

Kids from the Art in the Afternoon program build a small structure out of natural materials.

"We partnered with their patients, who are elderly and our kids, who are 'youngerly,'" she said. "Each made a quilt square of someone from a different generation."

The Black Mountain library has been supportive of Art in the Afternoon since the first show a decade ago, according to Sulzman. Displaying art created by some of the area's youngest artists "really transforms the space," she said.

"It's a great way to showcase the work that our kids have been doing all year," she said. 

Mason, whose favorite thing to do at Art in the Afternoon is work with clay, is eagerly awaiting the upcoming show. 

"I like to share art with the community," he said. "I also like looking at art; it's fun to see what everyone else has created."

Opening night is also a chance to say goodbye to kids who will be leaving the program. 

"We recognize the fifth-graders with awards that show how long they've been coming to the program," Sulzman said. "It's a nice way to send off the kids that will be moving onto middle school."

Registration for Art in the Afternoon, which was filled to capacity this year, begins in May. Parents who are interested in signing up should call Sulzman at 669-6929 for more. Or they should follow Art in the Afternoon on Facebook. 

"Many of our parents are working and need the care," Sulzman said. "But the kids don't view it as a place they have to go. They eagerly hop off the bus and say, 'What are we making today?'"