Noticing Neighbors EPIC Arts Clay Studio
What began as a Clay Studio on 6th street, has turned into an arts campus that brings neighbors of KCK together. EPIC Arts provides a gallery space, pop-up art container, and outdoor amphitheater with the Clay Studio at its center. The studio offers pottery throwing classes for both youth and adults, and brings the Strawberry Hill neighborhood together with the chance to try something new. Coming up on July 15th, EPIC Arts Clay Studio will be participating in the next Third Friday Art Walk. This event runs from 5-9pm, and shuts down 6th street up to Minnesota Avenue. The evening features musicians, visual artists, storytellers and performers for this free event.
Rachel Warren and Caroline Meek sat down to share the stories behind the artist studio.
Hayley: Before diving in, can you introduce EPIC Arts Clay Studio? What do you all do in the community?
Yeah! First, a good thing to know is that EPIC stands for “every person is creative.” That is honestly a good introduction to who we are and what we stand for as a studio. We offer ceramics classes, and occasionally other types of art classes, for all ages. We have adult beginners classes that happen three times a week that are month-long classes, and then we also have kids classes that happen mostly on Saturday. But if there's spring break, then sometimes it's during the week. We also have open studio time where people can come in and make whatever work that they want. Hayley: What mediums do you all use at the studio? Rachel: It's mostly ceramics. We're a pretty small studio. We have wheel throwing and hand building. All of our pottery wheel classes are limited to six people, because we have seven wheels available. So it's pretty intimate and really supports the quality of the instruction.
Caroline: EPIC Arts Clay Studio is under the umbrella of EPIC Arts, and that includes the outdoor stage, the art gallery next-door, and the sidewalk pop up container. It's basically a street container of art. Those collections are curated by our partner, Curiouser & Curiouser. We also have an artist in residence that comes twice a year and lives in the loft upstairs to create a community research project along with their art form, whatever medium they work in. So those are super cool things that happen here, and the Clay Studio was the beginning of it all. It started over a decade ago with volunteers and a showing of real community effort. That’s how EPIC Arts has been able to grow into an art hub for the neighborhood. We like to focus on accessible, affordable art.
You know what’s interesting about that? I didn't know it was started through volunteer efforts, but I could sense that through coming by and meeting people. Everyone was invested in the space, and it still has that feel. You said the class sizes are smaller, and I could see how that probably helps with community and relationship building. How do you see those connections happen in the studio?
It's been very cool. I've been here for a year and a half now, so I've really seen a lot of those connections being built. My very first students still attend Open Studio, so that's really special to me. They came in and it was literally my first day, so it was a little bit chaotic because there was a lot going on in the studio, and I was still getting familiar with the space.
So I hopped on and was like: Hey, this is how you center on the wheel! I helped them through that, and even now they still come. One of them just brought her niece to one of my beginners classes this month, which is super exciting because she is now sharing that with her family. It's been special to see how I helped these ladies with throwing a year and a half ago, and they still continue to come. We have a lot of Open Studio regulars where they have been here for years, and they're really down to help us out and volunteer when we have a million pieces to glaze.
With the volunteering, we do an exchange where if residents of the community come glaze or do some volunteer work, like sweeping or mopping the floor, then that translates to free credit for Open Studio. So you can come and help out and then you don't have to pay for that hour that you're doing your own work.
When you say connection, my first thought is of a couple of students that have been coming for 5 or 6 years. Like Kurt—I'll be helping someone during a class or Open Studio, and when I look over he's helping beginners who have just come for the first time. So the students who have been here longer look over and help other throwers with their stuff. I also think of Shelby, another student who goes to our advanced events—she came to this class where we threw a pour over set and a mug for coffee, and someone needed help. She sat the person down and showed them how to get started. I was busy teaching, but when I looked over I knew that Shelby had it taken care of. So a lot of throwers that come, once they get comfortable, they will start helping other people. I think it’s another step in the learning process. Being able to teach someone, and having the interest to teach someone. Grace brought her boyfriend last week, and they didn't even really talk to me. She just wanted to bring him in and teach him how to throw, which she's been doing all month. So that's really cool.
It says a lot that you’re supportive of that, too.
Rachel: It shows our students have an ownership of the place that they're working in. If they're helping clean up, sometimes I think it helps people understand what we are managing, and so it gives them appreciation and respect for the space. They really try to help us maintain their Clay Studio. I really feel like they think it's something they are a part of, not just a place that they go to. Our community is so kind and just fun to be around.
It sounds like it. I’ve never heard that EPIC stands for “every person is creative.” Do you ever see people come in a bit closed off, then open up and realize they’re capable of being creative?
I actually have a really great story for this. There is a mom and a daughter that come together to one of my beginners classes, but the daughter couldn't make it one night for glazing. While the class was painting the pieces, I was working on the kiln shelves in the background. Well, her daughter is trying to go to school for some type of art. That's what her goal is. And so the mom was talking to some of the other mom friends in the class. It was really cool because the daughter apparently was feeling a bit anxious because she's going to college soon and having to make those life decisions.
Her mom told them how, because of this class, she has now opened her eyes to see that art jobs are really possible—because I have an art job. I think that's super special. It gave her some confidence to come to the class and see that this is a real thing you can do.
I love meeting all the kids that come in and learn a new skill! It is so fun to see them get excited about learning. They can actually throw on the wheel, or use handbuilding to create. It's so special.
No one really has a leg up when it comes to throwing on the wheel and pottery, because most people didn't do that when they were young. So the adults are just like the kids. All the beginner’s work typically looks about the same, and sometimes it just is just a funny lump of something that resembles a cup. It holds water and it's great, but it really reminds you to just approach it with a beginner’s mind and let go of the perfectionism and release your expectations. I think it's a really good art form for that.
That's so freeing. Like you said, if I'm going to take off the expectations, then I'm just going to enjoy it.
You mentioned this at the beginning, but I didn't realize the full extent of it. EPIC Arts has the Clay Studio, but there are also these other branches. Can you share more about that?
There’s a box up here that's a converted shipping container, and it was renovated by college students with the guidance of Dotte Agency. This is where we show rotating artists. Curiouser & Curiouser, the art gallery curator, gets different people to set up there. So that's a really cool sidewalk art container.
Then back here is the green space with six picnic tables and a stage. We also have a little garden in the back.
So there are these different points, with people in charge of each of these spaces. The art gallery next door is also run by the same people who do the art box. So right now, there's a show up by Madeline, and we're doing a yoga class in there on Saturday. I want to get that started because it's a cool space and the floor is wide open. Why not have yoga classes in the art gallery? It is just a lot of potential, and there are a lot of things to do with the spaces. There’s a small team of people heading up each one, and it's all funded and managed by CHWC. It’s a community nonprofit that does housing development and revitalizing neighborhoods in KCK.
It sounds like there is a lot of neighborhood involvement in this whole organization. How have you seen goodness through it? Or how have you been inspired through the studio?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is my first couple of experiences at the Third Friday Art Walks. It’s where 6th street is blocked off for vendors and performers, and we put art shows up in businesses along the street. I lived here for 15 years, growing up just down the street a couple of blocks away. But I didn't really get involved with the arts community. It's different, living here as an adult and coming back after college. I started working at the studio and then helping organize the Art Walks, and just getting involved. When I first came, I saw there were just so many people out here up and down the street. I got all emotional because I was like, wow, there's an art community, like an active arts community right here in my neighborhood. It’s people from surrounding neighborhoods all coming together to walk up and down the street, look at art, make little things out of clay, and draw with chalk on the back of our gallery container. That was a really cool moment to realize what was already here in my neighborhood, and what's now growing in the place that I grew up in.
For me, my experience with being able to teach so many different people has been incredible. I love being able to pass on skills, I think that's such a cool thing. And I love art so much—I think art is such an important part of everyone's lives, even if they don't think that they are artists. Everyone can make art, and everyone can be an artist.
I've worked with such a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and people that have different disabilities.
The one thing that brings everyone together is art. Specifically for our studio, it’s clay. But I think art is so special. One of the oldest people that I've taught was 86 and he had Alzheimer's. His son brought him to the studio to assist with that, because learning a new skill helps your brain create different pathways, which helps with Alzheimer's. So he was learning how to throw on the wheel, and he was so cool and sweet. Then I've taught 3 year olds how to throw on the wheel, too! So I've had ages 3 to 86 so far as my range. Hayley: That’s amazing. Rachel: I just love that I'm a pretty naturally quiet person, and so for me, I teach people and approach them where they're at. I think the most fun thing for me is figuring out how to effectively communicate with each specific person to get them to understand the mechanics of making pottery. It's so special to see someone grasp the skill and start to be able to do it themselves, and then just gain confidence too.
And the curiosity also. After taking a couple of weeks to finish the beginners class, when someone starts coming to Open Studio and trying something they saw on Instagram—that also inspires everyone else. Then they start like a trend, and there'll be cycles of different things: like ring holders, or spoon holders, or pour over sets that everyone will get in on. Since all our stuff is out on the walls here, someone might not know half of the names on that shelf, but they can still see the art in different parts of the process. So the ideas are being communicated along the way.
What is your hope and intention for people that are coming in? What do you hope that they have as they leave?
I hope that everyone that walks in the door has a good experience. I hope that everybody feels really welcome and able to ask questions, because sometimes it's intimidating to come into a space where you have no experience at all. Most of our students, especially my beginners, have never touched a pottery wheel. So I really want to provide a space for them where they feel comfortable learning something new and comfortable failing, because that's a huge part of the process. I hope that they are able to take a relaxing time away from their hectic lives and just have a good experience.
That's lovely, I second all of that. I would say specifically that I want people to leave with a sense of calm, like a grounded feeling—and to leave with the beginning of a habit of creativity. To put importance on art in a way that you make space in your life, not just by going to one pottery class, but making a habit of it. To start integrating creativity into your daily life and seeing it as a necessity and not just a luxury. Especially for the neighborhood I grew up in that's historically under-resourced, and there’s not been a lot of funding for the arts. I want people to be inspired to make that a habit in their lives, and then also be able to give them the resources to do it. That way, people can walk out of the studio and find ways to see the world with that creativity. Hayley:
Does it feel that way to you? Caroline:
Yes, and there’s also a sense of familiarity. When I walk in here, I'm just like: Oh, I know how this place works, and it's familiar. I love it. I think students, too, feel that sense of belonging. It’s nice to be able to walk into a place and know that this is mine, too.
Keep up with upcoming Art Walks and throwing classes with EPIC Arts Studio through their website, Facebook and Instagram. All media originally published by EPIC Arts Clay Studio via their online platforms.