Blogger Abby Johnson

Inspiring Creativity with Open Art Studios

I have embraced the mess.

Yes, that’s right. After attending a session about creativity in children’s programming at last year’s CYPD Conference in Indianapolis, I have embraced paint, glue, and glitter in the name of encouraging creativity.

That’s why, when our schools went on spring break a few weeks ago, my library hosted an Open Art Studio. Instead of a craft, which might require lots of prep time and/or explicit instructions given during the program, we opted for art. We put out supplies (a great excuse to use up leftover stuff we had stashed around our office) and let the kids create whatever they wanted! Not only was this easier for us in terms of prep, but it gives kids a chance to use their creativity. Here’s what we did:

We purchased paint and pumps for the gallon jugs. The pumps enable kids and parents to easily help themselves to the paint. We always save egg cartons and they are perfect to hold the paint for this activity. When not being used for a program, the pumps “lock” down and the jugs fit on our program room counters, underneath the cabinets.

We put out large white construction paper and any odds and ends we had around our programming room. We had die-cut shapes leftover from various craft projects, pasta in different shapes, scraps of felt, and other things. Of course we also put out scissors and glue.

And, even though we put “dress to mess” on all the publicity for the event, we provided a basket of mess shirts that the kids could use if they didn’t wear old clothes. These were donated by a local Goodwill store when we did a pocket craft some time ago. I’d be willing to bet that many folks at your library or in your community have old shirts they’d be willing to donate for this purpose.

We opened up the room for an hour and a half and let parents and kids come and go as they pleased. We had music playing on the CD player while they worked and we had a display of art books for kids to check out after they were done. Here are some of the creations!

Wonderful! The program was open to all ages and we’ll be repeating it weekly over the summer, putting out a different selection of materials each week. Last summer we did Friday “Crafternoons”, a different drop-in craft each week. It was fine, but I’m hoping that the Open Art Studios will appeal to a wider age-range and be easier on us prep-wise.

We were quite happy with our Open Art Studio! It was easy to prep and our families had a great time!

(And you know what? It wasn’t really that messy anyway.)

Anyone else do creative art programs? What are some of your favorite supplies to use?

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN


  1. Lisa

    What a great idea! I especially like the “dress for mess” caveat. How I wish I had tile flooring at my library. I always have to be cautious with paint because of the carpeting and upholstered chairs. I may try a modified version, though, and I’m definitely going to start saving my egg cartons. 🙂

  2. Megan Stith

    We are planning to launch a program called Arts and Kids when we move to our new building in a few months. It will involve time with musical instruments, a few short stories, and open-ended time experimenting with different art materials. We’ve considered having liquid watercolor day, foam paint day, stamping day, etc., but I like the way you just put all your materials out there and let them dive in! Hopefully it will give the kids a chance to be creative in a (potentially messy) way they may not be allowed or encouraged to try elsewhere. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  3. Jennifer Schultz

    I love this idea. I’m a big fan of open-ended craft programs. We did a Valentine card craft in February. Simple, right? We are very short staffed at our branches, so I try to make the programs with a minimum of fuss but with a lot of fun. We put out cardstock, markers/chalk/pompons/ribbons/crayons/scrapbooking scissors/stampers/other odds and ends; after some Valentine’s Day stories, we let them loose. We had children ages 4-13 in the room, and the majority of the children stayed for the full hour and made more than one card. They had a terrific time; there was such a great vibe of creativity and concentration in that room. I highly recommend programs like this!

  4. Jen

    This is a fantastic idea! I love the egg cartons as paint trays. I wish we had enough room in my library to do something like this.

  5. Lynna Mance

    An art book (or artbook) may mean a conventional book on art or art history, or an artist’s book, which is a work of art in the form of a book, usually produced in a small limited edition, often not just using normal printing techniques. The term might also cover graphic novels, books of anime and other types of graphics, or books of fine art photography. It is not generally used for illuminated manuscripts, though these are both art and books.*

    Take a look at the most popular posting at our own website

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *