“No, Dada! Pink!,” was my 20-month-old son’s admonishment when I began to color the trees in his coloring book. I had pulled a green crayon out of the box. While I had the best of intentions, I was quickly reminded that, while I was assisting in this project, I was expected to remain true to his artistic vision…though I’m not sure pink appears in the usual tree color palette.

Through this episode, however, I was witness to the process of art education, even if at a rudimentary level. My son had obviously learned through experimentation which color combinations he found pleasing and was making an aesthetic decision based on his knowledge and tastes. And, he was quick to critique my efforts…loudly. Hopefully, he’ll continue to experiment and learn and will eventually develop an appreciation for works that are a little less pink.

It has long been known that art education not only imbues an element of culture into one’s life, but also that it’s critical to emotional and intellectual development. Children’s minds develop by participating in activities that encourage higher-level thinking and stimulate their imaginations. Through studying and participating in the visual arts, problem-solving and critical thinking skills are strengthened. Students develop a positive work ethic and pride in a job well done through goal setting, quality craftsmanship, and accepting the responsibility to see a project through to completion.

Troubled individuals especially can benefit through arts education and participation. They are afforded alternative channels for potentially destructive energy and can explore different avenues for learning. Arts education provides an invaluable opportunity for all individuals to learn necessary life skills such as decision-making, articulating thoughts and visions, and building self-confidence and self-discipline. Quality arts education has even been proven to help level the playing field of learning across social-economic levels.

According to statistics provided by Americans for the Arts, young artists, as compared with their peers, are three times more likely to attend music, art, or dance classes. They are likely to participate in a youth group or perform community service four times more often than their counterparts.

The statistics go on to state that young people who participate in the arts for three hours, three days each week, for at least one year are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, participate in a math or science contest, or win an award for writing an essay or poem. These same individuals are three times more likely to be elected to a class office at school or win an award for school attendance.

The Peoria Art Guild has long been aware of the benefits of art education and participation and has been a pioneer in area arts education. Since our inception more than 124 years ago, art education and appreciation have been at the forefront of our mission. Students of all ages and abilities can study drawing, painting, ceramics, jewelry, photography, and more under the guidance of professional educators, including college-level instructors and master craftspeople.

But it’s much more than studying a particular discipline. Participants learn to express themselves both creatively and interpersonally through interaction with other participants. They learn the power of group dynamics and teamwork. They learn to respect and even value the opinions of others and develop a better appreciation and understanding of their surroundings.

The Peoria Art Guild’s community outreach programs take the same philosophy of art education into the community. Our ARTreach programs provide valuable and much needed art instruction to at-risk and underserved youth through partnerships with agencies such as the Tri-County Urban League, the YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Peoria Alternative School, Youth Farm, and Friendship House.

The Guild’s Mentor Apprentice Program provides the opportunity for gifted area high school students to study various artistic disciplines over the course of a summer and teaches them to prepare an exhibition of their own work. Through this program, students have earned college scholarships to continue artistic studies.

Regardless of the student’s talent, age, or course of study, there is always a noticeable improvement as education progresses. Often, the improvement is not only found in the quality of work, but in the individual as well. Many lives have been forever changed through immersion in arts education, and the Peoria Art Guild is proud to have played a role.

Looking back on the coloring book incident, I like to think my son even played a role in helping to broaden my own aesthetic perceptions. As I recently walked the gallery just before a show came down, a particular piece caught my eye. It was a piece I hadn’t cared for a few months earlier, but at that moment, I found it captivating. I wondered if perhaps I was seeing the image as the artist had intended, or if I was viewing it with my own interpretation. I decided I liked the deft, painterly strokes of muted shades…including the pink trees. AA!