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Meet Andrea Rollins and Michele Hardesty of artSPARK Creative Studio in Downtown Littleton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Rollins and Michele Hardesty.

Please kick things off for us with some background on the story.
We met when Andrea was teaching elementary art at a Montessori school. Michele was a new parent at the school the same year Andrea became pregnant with her first child. Michele volunteered that year in the art room and we began to see how much we had in common. Towards the end of the year, Andrea decided to explore job sharing as a possibility after the baby was born. She immediately thought Michele, a former art teacher, would be a perfect fit. Michele excitedly exclaimed, “I thought you’d never ask!”. That moment solidified much more than a job share. As the months and next six years unfolded, we began to see what a partnership this was, and just how well we complemented each other and worked together. As a team, we were united in our teaching philosophy and methodology. Together we transformed the art program and art room into one that met the children’s needs and provided a space not just for producing art, but for thinking creatively, igniting curiosity, and encouraging innovation through allowing choice. That was the biggest “aha” moment that created a shift in how we taught and what propelled us forward to spread our wings and create artSPARK.

For the next six years, we watched these elementary kids grow and really come alive with ideas and enthusiasm for art. Even kids who previously didn’t seem interested. It made us wonder what it would be like to provide a space like this for all ages. People need this. We all have an innate need to create in some way. Some of us are trained to stop trusting our instincts and get out of touch with our creativity, but deep down everyone is capable of creating, and when we see that spark come alive where it once was dormant, that is like magic. It fuels our fire every time.

We wanted to build a community of creative thinkers of all ages. Before committing, we decided to take one month to play around with the idea of a business; what it would be called, what it would look like, etc. Suddenly things started lining up and falling into place. It was almost so effortless that we couldn’t ignore it anymore. So we followed that voice inside that said “just go for it”, took a leap of faith, quit our art teacher jobs, and here we are. Two and half years in we are still growing and figuring it all out. It’s had it challenges and tough days, but we are so grateful we took the leap.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I think every business has obstacles and challenges. For us, maintaining a healthy work/life balance is up there. Burnout is real and it is so easy to spend too much time on something you are passionate about. We are artists and teachers with younger kids. We took on a lot without much prior business experience. We’re resourceful and have our people that we turn to when we don’t know the answer, but our team, in the beginning, was essentially the two of us, and our patient husbands. Lol. We knew we wanted to build a community of creative thinkers of all ages, but what to offer to sustain the business and also meet what customers are wanting takes a lot trial and error and fine-tuning before it’s dialed in. And then things change. Change is constant because we are always looking for new ways to improve and grow. And with change comes learning and implementing new things. Finding time to keep up with the changes that need to happen, finding time to take care of ourselves, our families, and have the energy that is required to show up and be a creative teacher…that whole balance is a challenge. We’re learning and will always choose quality over quantity. There are things we have definitely scaled back on until the right time comes. We frequently ask ourselves if certain things still match our vision and are worth the effort. If not, we let them go and put our focus back on what truly matters. The people we serve are the most important. Our classes are not just about cranking out products. We build relationships and love seeing students grow and develop in all aspects of life because learning to be creative really impacts the whole child, or big kid, or grown-up. 😉

So, as you know, we’re impressed with artSPARK Creative Studio – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
artSPARK is a Creative Studio. We have our roots in art and want to spark ideas of all kinds, building a community of creative thinkers of all ages. We offer classes, camps, and parties for ages 1-adult. These include after school, homeschool, machine sewing, adult+child, preschool drop-off, kids art nites (parent’s night out), open studios, birthday parties, private event workshops, and hosting field trips. “Are you a paint and sip studio?”…We get that question a lot! The short answer is no. Do we love doing fun workshops for groups of adults or kids? YES! We just structure and approach it in a different way.

We love a process-based and TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) approach. We want people to practice thinking and working like artists instead of replicating or mimicking other artists’ work. We believe the process is just as important and sometimes more important than the product. We know that sensory activities, messy play, creative play, and processes or “invitations to create” that develop fine and gross motor skills matter. They make a huge impact on growth and development, and engage people of ALL ages, connecting them socially and emotionally. Collaboration, brainstorming, and problem-solving are part of our everyday vocabulary. We pose questions instead of always giving answers. We encourage exploration, experimentation, innovation, invention, and discovery. We talk about failures as well as successes. We teach lessons on use and care of materials, how artists think and work, set up media centers, and demonstrate how to become independent in the artistic process. We step back to become the guide and let the children be the artists. Artists have lots of choices and make decisions every step of the process. They learn to seek inspiration and visualize what is important to them. We want kids to do this too, rather than only following step-by-step instructions for creating a successful piece every time, resulting in little say in the subject matter and end product.

We regularly have kids walk through the door exclaiming the ideas they’ve been thinking about and planning. We’ve even had kids walk in with “blueprints”! This is the best testimonial and all the validation that we need to keep doing what we do. Getting kids to independently think and self-start creative problems…that is the true work of an artist and the stuff that is needed for real change and innovation in our world. We are most proud that we are helping to grow these kinds of minds for our future.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We always have big plans! I think somewhere the word creative must have “big plans” in the definition. Right now we’re focusing on Summer Camps. We revamped how we structure our offerings and we are nearly sold out! We’re so grateful and are now doing all the legwork to make these creative camps ones that kids will love and look forward to every Summer. Our plans for the future include continuing to build what is working while we search for the right people to join our team and get us to the place where can add more offerings.

One exciting thing we’ve been building and looking forward to is a Kids Only Art Show throughout Downtown Littleton. This May Andrea’s Artist Program will be expanding from the walls of Gracefull Cafe to a collaboration with ten other business owners in Downtown Littleton. There will be an Art Walk with the artwork from 41 of our student’s ages 6-15. Each business will hang a few pieces in their shops for the month of May. This is the culmination of a 12-week program that gives each student the full experience of being an artist from keeping a sketchbook, to exploring ideas, experimenting with materials, planning, refining, reflecting, and then choosing a piece from their “portfolio” of work during the 12 weeks to hang in an art show. A list of participating businesses will be on our website. Stop by and check it out!

Another opportunity we’re looking forward to is getting into area schools to do teacher training on process art, the benefits, and what that looks like in practice. Michele has started doing this for preschools.

Pricing:

  • $8 Intro classes for Open Studio and Creative Play Group

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageDenver is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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