Columbus, Ohio USA
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A Valentine's Day full of HeART
Benefit supports young Short Stop artists
by Karen Edwards

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© Photos by William Bullock

Jana Ross, art director at the Short Stop Youth Center

Next month, America celebrates Valentine’s Day. Think of it. A mere month and a half after Christmas, it’s time to buy your sweetheart another gift. (What were calendar creators thinking?) But this year, skip the default candy and/or flowers and buy your Valentine an original piece of art instead. No, really. It may be much more affordable than you think.

That’s because Directions for Youth & Families will sponsor a special fundraiser at the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High St., on February 7 – just one week before Valentine’s Day. Called “Open Your HeART for Kids,” this first-time event will feature a silent auction of photographs taken by students who attend the Short Stop and Directions’ newest youth center on Ohio Avenue – along with photographs taken by a few amateur adult photographers as well.

Sure, you’re thinking. That’s nice, but even though my Valentine really appreciates art, especially photography, I can’t imagine kids are going to create the kind of art she (or he) is going to want to hang on their walls.

Well, think again.

Basement art
One of the city’s best-kept secrets is the Short Stop Visual Arts program that lies deep beneath the castle-like building that reigns over the Short North’s north end.

Here, in a basement room turned art studio, works a small crew of students who have a talent and expressed interest in the visual arts: painting, silk screening, printing, photography and design.

Because these students are paid ($7 an hour), participation in the program is by application. In other words, the students must not only be good artists, and good students (they must keep their grades up in order to stay in the program), they must also possess the maturity to report for work regularly and on time. The work day is four hours long, four days a week, and usually begins after the school day with Saturdays as an option.

“We expect the students to treat their time here as any other job,” says Jana Ross. Ross is a visual artist and graduate of the Columbus College of Art and Design who specializes in silk-screening but who also paints murals, portraits and other works on a freelance basis. She presides over the Short Stop art program as mentor, supporter, teacher and boss. “I tell the students they don’t have to know how to draw, but they do have to have a sense of design. If they know how to put an outfit together, for example, that’s design.”

Mistakes are going to be part of the learning process, she continues. “Of course, they’re going to make some, but as long as they learn something, I’m happy.” The students are hardly delusional about their abilities. In fact, too often, she finds youths cringing at their finished work. “They think it’s a disaster but it’s not.” In fact, one of her favorite jobs is to reassure a young artist the piece he or she created is actually quite spectacular.

And it is. Proof lies everywhere you look. Along one of the walls, for example, sits an explosion of paintings – portraits, landscapes, still lifes, each carefully and skillfully rendered in oil.

Student artists

“That’s my favorite,” says Mazio Saunders, pointing to a haunting landscape of a small house, huddled near an expansive lake. The colors are muted and convey a sense of looking through a filtered lens at a scene remembered from long ago.

Saunders is one of the students who work here, making art. He’s been coming to the Short Stop since the age of “about 7” – and he says he has always wanted to be a part of the center’s art program, “ever since I heard about it.”

Students here are trained in a number of disciplines, not only by Ross but also by dedicated volunteers like Mary Sheskey of 4Ward Communications who arranges field trips to design shops and art schools, and by outside experts, like cartoonist Max Ink, who come to the Short Stop to share their passion for art.

Drawing cartoons, as it turns out, is one of Saunders’s favorite art activities. He draws the panels and occasionally writes the story. He also enjoys working on the soul bowls created here.

Two soul bowl designers, Steven White (in cap) and David Elliott study a work in progress

Soul bowls are a signature item for the Short Stop art program. They cover an entire table in the studio – small, medium and large wooden bowls painted in joyous, vibrant colors, and conveying messages that seem to bubble up from the soul.“Create something original,” encourages one bowl; “There is no such thing as someone else’s child,” notes another. These are bowls that grace any surface on which they’re placed; they are bowls that speak directly to the heart. They are bowls that make you smile.

A large soul bowl featuring two African-Americans was painted by Steven White, one of the program’s artists, who comes from a family filled with artists. White writes poetry in his spare time and hopes to, one day, become a filmmaker. “I didn’t know about this program when I first started coming to the Short Stop,” he says. One day, however, a staff member saw White drawing and promptly delivered him to Ross. White has been in the program for about a year and a half and says he enjoys doing everything the program offers. One of White’s oil paintings, a captivating still life of flowers, is a study in color, texture and accuracy, an example of classic realism. When it comes to painting soul bowls, however, White likes to add an element of fantasy – sometimes inspired by the poetry he reads. He especially likes the poetry of the Bengali (India) poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, a “rebel” poet whose poems preach against oppression and bigotry. “I like his philosophy and political views,” says White.

Both Saunders and White believe that, thanks to the program, art will always be a part of their lives. Ultimately, says Saunders, he’d like to go to art school, and eventually he’d like to design cars. “Art is all I see now,” he says. “Art is in everything.” White agrees that the Short Stop program has changed the way he looks at the world. “I look at it now in a more abstract way; I’m less of a conformist.” It’s one of the reasons he says he’d like to explore filmmaking, because it would allow him a chance to explore other views and beliefs and, from that, distill the pure essence of a character or a story.

Both Saunders and White say their work is respected by family and friends, and they encourage anyone who has a desire to do art to, in White’s words: “Go for it.” It’s a way to explore who you are. “It’s something you can use throughout your life,” adds Saunders.

The Short Stop program has produced several students who have gone on to explore their art talent. Teretha Lusear, a former program participant, is now studying art at Ohio State University on an art scholarship. And Ross says she is just as proud of other program participants who have gone on to college, although in other careers.

The HeART of it all

Students like Dairra Byant (left) receive support and direction from a variety of instructors,
including Short Stop's art director, Jana Ross.

It’s why the program exists – and why businesses in the community are happy to support it. According to Ross, corporate clients have included the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Nationwide and Huntington Bank, but Ross says they are happy to take on commissions from anyone. “We’ve silk-screened logos onto towels and tote bags for different groups and we’ve done numerous family reunions,” she says.

All of this is to say that the work that will be available for sale at the Open your HeART for Kids event will be professional-quality work.

“We used to sponsor a fundraising event called the Short Stop Showcase,” says Sue Phillips, director of development and marketing for Directions for Youth & Families. “But after five or six years, the same format begins to lose its appeal. We wanted to offer something different this year.”

In the past, the group’s fundraisers have been hugely successful, with 200 to 250 people attending. Some marketing for the event is done, says Phillips, but word of mouth has been the most effective way to bring people through the door.

“The crowd that comes to these events is largely young professionals,” says Ross. “It’s a hip happening.”

Music plays and refreshments are served. And the cost for the evening (from 6 until 9 p.m.) is $50 a person or $75 a couple.

“Everyone who comes likes the art and usually buys something,” says Phillips.

And how can they not? Such joyous pieces can brighten any home – and all of the proceeds go directly to fund the Short Stop. “It’s all in support of the kids,” says Phillips. “The students who participate in this program do wonderful work,” Phillips continues. “I encourage people to come. It’s a great Valentine’s Day activity because it encourages people to give from the heart.”

For more information about the Open Your HeART for Kids event, contact Directions for Youth & Families, 614-294-2661 or visit

Open Your HeART for Kids
WHAT: Fundraiser featuring a silent auction of photographs taken by
youth and amateur adults, with live entertainment and refreshments.
WHEN: Saturday, February 7, 2009 from 6 to 9 p.m.
WHERE: Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High Street
TICKETS: $50 per person or $75 per couple
INFORMATION: 614-294-2661 or visit

© 2009 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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