CICF News / 2012 / April / News Post
April 17, 2012
From Stick Figures to Teacher's Assistant

The Indianapolis Art Center Helps One Young Student Find Confidence and Purpose

Nine years ago, a quiet, withdrawn seven-year-old girl name Latoya went with her grandmother Augustine to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center. The center was hosting a special program for grandparents raising grandchildren, a valuable program for the pair since Augustine had recently welcomed her little granddaughter into her home.

At the center, Latoya found an opportunity that helped her find a purpose – the Indianapolis Art Center’s ArtReach program, a neighborhood-based arts education program serving youth ages 5-18 living in underserved areas throughout the Indianapolis metropolitan area. The ArtReach program offers a class on alternating Thursdays at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, where young people gain art skills, awareness of multicultural artists and – for some students – confidence and more direction.

Drawn to Creativity

Like many children, Latoya enjoyed art, and in particular drawing, even as a toddler. Latoya began “…drawing stick figures, and trees that didn’t look like trees, and cars that looked like some kind of airplane,” she says. At the ArtReach classes, Latoya was able to explore her interest in art while developing valuable skills including an understanding of shape, a facility with composition and an appreciation for her own ability with the guidance of artist-teachers.

ArtReach artists provide students with hands-on learning in a variety of media, including charcoal, pastels, paint and collage. The art instructors also help young people explore art history and culture, aesthetics and critique.

For Latoya, the art-focused lessons paid off; she won the ArtReach Outstanding Student award last year. But the greater impact has been the boost in confidence and personal development Latoya gained from her ArtReach classes.

Latoya with Jude Odell, her ArtReach instructor for the past nine years 

ArtReach instructor Jude Odell describes the young Latoya as “very shy and quiet and hardly ever spoke.” Over time, though, Latoya began to change. “As she grew up, she started finding herself and blossoming,” Odell says.

Or, as Latoya explains, “I feel that I have a purpose now. Art made me feel like a person because I could express myself through it.”

ArtReach: By the Numbers

The ArtReach program served more than 550 local students, ages 5 to 18, in the 2010-2011 program year. ArtReach artist-teachers have worked with local community organizations, churches, schools and housing cooperatives since 1989. With regular, two-hour visits over 12 to 15 week semesters, the artist-teachers offer sessions that are longer than what most schools provide and that are tailored to their students.

“The program I develop often is a response to the specific children, seeing what they need and where they’re going,” Odell says.

Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) has provided over a decade of funding to the ArtReach program through grants from The Indianapolis Foundation.

Graduation, SMART and Latoya’s New Role

Latoya is now a graduate of the ArtReach program, and after many years of classes at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, she spent last year in the SMART (Supporting Mentoring through ART) program. SMART is a partnership between the Indianapolis Art Center and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana that partners adult mentors with youth. The pairs attend classes together at the Art Center, with a goal of developing skills and interests in the arts among the youth and adults.

Following her year in SMART, Latoya earned a scholarship to serve as a teacher’s assistant in the ArtReach program. This opportunity allows Latoya to work in support of a program that she believes in deeply, and demonstrates the impact of programs that allow young people to explore and discover parts of the world and themselves. It may also lead to a career for Latoya. Regardless, Latoya says her experience speaks volumes about the power of art and the Indianapolis Art Center.

“[The Art Center] will show people that they matter in the world and through art they probably could show their personality and who they really are.”

You can make a difference!

Our mission at Central Indiana Community Foundation is to inspire, support, and practice philanthropy, leadership and service in the community. We do that by: identifying community-wide issues; working with effective not-for-profits to address those needs; and serving as a philanthropic partner to individuals, family foundations and businesses who are interested in making central Indiana a better place for everyone.

To find out how you can play a role in addressing the needs identified in this story (or any of the stories posted at, please contact us at: