St. Louis Artists Help Students' Dreams Come True

For even the youngest kids, art is a way to let their creativity flow. With every swipe of paint or scribble of a marker, they create something from the heart the moment they touch a piece of paper.

But when encouraged by those around them, art can evolve from a hobby into a passion, and over the years, even the career of their dreams. With The Blooming Artists Project, master artists from across the St. Louis metropolitan area are connecting one-on-one with students in grades 3-12, helping them discover their confidence as artists and reach for the stars.

“With The Blooming Artists Project, we want kids to know the arts are worth pursuing,” said co-director Alex Johnmeyer. “It’s possible to have an idea, put it on paper or sculpt it, and know it has worth. If a child wants to grow up and become a professional artist or teacher, that’s an achievable dream. When I was coloring with crayons at the table as a child, I had no idea art could turn into an actual career until others showed me the way.”

Founded by artist Marilyn Callahan and sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Art Association, Artmart, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, and The Done Department, The Blooming Artists Project will host its annual exhibit this May at 1900 Park Creative Space & Gallery. This special event spotlights the incredible work of these student artists and seasoned veterans who have worked together since February to create something incredible.

The start to something special

On February 21, cold wax artist Mark Witzling and fifth grader Diamond Ryhmes, along with 33 other mentors and mentorees, met at Artmart for “interview night,” the kickoff to two months of creative collaboration.

Like her fellow young artists, Ryhmes carried along her own work of art, created in school and submitted by her teacher who recognized her potential, talent and passion. Using Ryhmes’ painting as his muse, Witzling is currently working on a companion piece to be displayed side-by-side with hers at The Blooming Artists exhibition. And throughout the process, he’ll keep the lines of communication open to share his knowledge and technique with the aspiring artist.

“Diamond was a bit shy, but as we talked, I saw that she was quite thoughtful, and she’s a wonderfully talented artist,” said Witzling. “I learned that she really loves bold color – yellow is her favorite – and she found a particular painting by Chagall to use as a foundation for her own artwork. Going forward, I hope to have my student artist visit my studio to see where and how I work.”

According to Johnmeyer, it’s the relationship between the student and artist that is the true basis for the project. When the right connections are made, a new world of opportunities and understanding is opened for all participants.

“One teen did a beautiful piece of a young man sitting in boxer shorts with a sad expression on his face and a flower in his hair,” Johnmeyer explained. “As I read his artist statement, he talked about how no one should discriminate based on gender identity. We happen to have a mentor artist, Zoe Nicholson, who is transfeminine, so it was kismet they were paired together. It take so much strength for a child to create a painting on gender nonconformity, and we want him to be proud about what he has to say.”

In addition, a sixth grader who creates “the most fantastic, crazy, bug-eyed monsters” was connected with Greg Griesenauer, a renowned comic artist. On interview night, the two immediately sat down and began drawing monsters together. “His mom was so happy,” said Johnmeyer. “She said, ‘Here’s someone that looks at my kid’s monster drawings and doesn’t think they’re horrible or scary.’  As a self-proclaimed weirdo myself, I feel like a lot of artists think they’re outcasts. I want all kids to feel like they have a voice and that there’s a group of people who understand them.”

An art show for all ages

On Friday, May 12 at 6 p.m., The Blooming Artists Project gallery exhibition will open at 1900 Park Creative Space & Gallery in Lafayette Square and run for the entire month. All of the children’s art will be matted and framed before being hung next to their mentor’s creation, which isn’t a replica of their work, but a piece inspired by the child’s unique theme and style.

For most of the kids, this is the first time their work has ever been displayed to the public on this scale. In fact, past opening receptions have welcomed more than 300 art aficionados ready to meet the next generation of artists in St. Louis.

Remarked Johnmeyer, “You can’t describe in words the joy these kids experience. Many of them have never stepped into an art gallery before. You really have to see it on their faces – most of them are stunned and amazed to receive this kind of attention. The exhibit helps children build their self-confidence and realize what they have to give to the world is worth our attention.”

For more information about The Blooming Artists Project’s exhibition, to see the 2017 student gallery online, or to contact the organization about participating in 2018’s event, visit

Photo courtesy of the Blooming Artists Project

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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge is the lifestyle and pop culture blogger for STL Parent. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL 

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