“My personal philosophy on art is it’s all about the process.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I walked up the snow-covered driveway to the home of Jennifer Davis, owner and facilitator of SmART Studio Akron, or as she calls herself, “The owner, the educator, the boss of the applesauce.”
As I passed her mailbox—bowling pins sticking out of it—making my way to the blue building behind her home on Payne Avenue that SmART occupies, I remembered first noticing the studio on social media. The more of their posts I saw, the more I wanted to meet the person behind them. I could tell immediately she was my kind of people.
Jennifer greeted me at the door and as I walked in I instantly fell in love. My eyes darted around the room, jumping around from one piece of visually-stimulating art to another, and more—to crafts, books, art supplies and the colored paper cut-outs that adorn the ceiling. There’s something incredibly comforting about this small studio. Despite being where she makes art with her students, it feels like home as soon as you sit down.
She currently instructs 20 students, ranging up to 64. Some are just 4 years old and still learning to color inside the lines, which Jennifer says is a “blast.” Her older students come in for more of what she calls a “therapeutic” experience.
Before opening SmART, Jennifer, a licensed visual arts educator, earned her bachelors in art education from the University of Akron. From 2008 to 2013, taught visual arts for kindergarten through fifth grade.
Certain frustrations led her from the classroom to her own studio.
“I could always see the faces of students who really want to learn. They really wanted that enrichment,” she says. “On the flip side, I also saw students that might struggle in more tradition learning. I saw those students really find success in the arts—not only art but music, dance and theater. I think part of the reason I left teaching at the time, you’re just not able to serve all the students. Your teaching is strained in a sense.”
SmART allows her more freedom in the way she teaches.
“In this arena and space, I differentiate instruction for each individual student. I’m able to help the students make those connections.”
Part of that process—helping students make connections—is just a matter of getting them to play with the tools of the trade.
“You can learn so much just about by using the tools, using the material, coloring, painting and getting messy with the clay—that is so much of a learning process instead of thinking about whether the end product is exactly perfect, or in your mind’s eye what you expected. I think you can learn more about the process.”
Many arts organizations offer art workshops but hers are different, she says.
“This is more of a niche, this is the opportunity to provide instruction from a teacher that has taught and is certified. I’ve had that real world experience but also a more individual and intimate setting. For most of my students, this is private instruction. I think the environment, too, is different than a regular classroom. It’s a more intimate setting.”
If someone is interested in taking classes with Jennifer, there’s a survey for new students before they can begin.
“What is your favorite part of art? What do you like to do in your spare time? I’ve had students give me answers like I’m really into cats, so I give them instruction that revolves around cats—let’s see how we can make a cat: by painting a cat, sculpting a cat, drawing a cat. It’s all about making that connection to art which I think is an authentic experience.”
For more information, visit smartstudioakron.com or contact Jennifer Davis directly at SmARTStudioAkron@gmail.com
[su_box title=”Katelyn Y. Gainer”]
Katelyn Y. Gainer is the arts columnist for The Devil Strip. She is an art history graduate student at Kent State and a gallery assistant for a small arts nonprofit. She loves to help promote Northeast Ohio’s thriving arts community. You can find her on Twitter at @katelyngainer [/su_box]