Amanda Wagner, Founder/Owner - Young At Art

Amanda Wagner

Founder/Owner – Young at Art

Mentoring Goshen’s Young Creatives

I have a B.F.A. and my medium of choice is oil painting on canvas, and I always imagined I’d end up as a professor of painting. I wasn’t around a lot of other young kids all the time, growing up. To be honest, as I grew older and into adulthood, young kids made me feel nervous. They scared me.

When I started Young at Art, seven years ago here in Goshen, I’d been working on art with my daughter, who was two at the time. That gave me just enough confidence to get this art program for young kids off the ground. And then once I started having more and more art classes with young kids, I realized pretty quickly how wrong I was to be nervous.

I now regularly work with kids as young as two years old in the Young at Art program and I find that—when they’re that young—whatever they do is what they need to do. I don’t stop them or correct them. I let them pour their own paint and I stay supportive of their work at all times, even when someone is coloring a frog purple.

Kids surprise me all the time, just how naturally artistic they can be. Also, just like coloring a frog purple, kids don’t worry about how much sense things make. Adults starting out in art classes tend to worry, non-stop, about “is this right?” Kids don’t worry about it like that, or bring those same concerns to the table.

The first summer of Young at Art, we ran it out of our driveway. We ended up having a lot of kids join up and a lot more interest than I thought we’d get. Eventually I got in touch with the Goshen Painters Guild to see if there was anything they could do for us. I became a member there and then pretty soon afterwards we started conducting our Young at Art classes from the main, upstairs area of the guild.

But the program continued to expand pretty quickly, and before long we could barely fit our materials into the main area supply closet.

We ended up taking over this larger, unused space in the guild, just past the main area. And having this larger space has been an absolute godsend. Since then we’ve branched out into offering art classes for more than just kids—we currently offer both adult classes and kids classes. But working on art with kids, as I now have two of my own, is what’s been my focus and has really brought this program to life.

Young at Art - The Good of Goshen
Young at Art - The Good of Goshen
Young at Art - The Good of Goshen
Young at Art - The Good of Goshen

I’m really happy to live in Goshen with my husband and children and to be a part of this community. So many artists and creatives have gravitated here from other places because it’s known for its arts scene. I know that’s why we came here – I told my husband I wanted to move here for the art community and that’s just what we did.

It feels like the artists of Goshen are always working together and supporting each other and it really is a wonderful and rare thing. Young at Art has received support over the years from the Goshen Arts Council and general investment from the city itself. And the guild has just been wonderful and super-supportive over the years.

Ever since I asked the guild, way back when, if I could do this program here it’s just been one green light after another, and it’s a really great feeling to know you’re supported like that. And, in turn, I’ve been able to get more involved, myself. I’m now an executive committee member for the painters guild and I’ve been involved in supporting Arts on the Millrace, Goshen Art House, and other great organizations in Goshen.

When you know you’re being supported, it just makes it that much easier to support others.

I think some of the kids who’ve been with us more than one session, they really seem to get better and better in terms of developing their ideas. I remember one time I had a student who told me she wanted to work on Realism, in which I am classically trained. I encouraged it, and she went on to spend her next several projects on Realism and just had question after question during sessions. About every little thing. Which is fine—questions are always encouraged. But I always like to see a student decide for themselves.

After those first few practice runs, she started on her final project with Realism. And for that final project, she thought about it, envisioned it, and planned it—and she didn’t ask me a thing. Not once. She had developed confidence in her work; confidence in herself. Working with kids, and seeing how art has this positive effect on them and their lives, that’s the absolute best feeling in the world.

Written by Jake Sandock

Original publish date May 2023