Naperville teens offer free art lessons aimed to teach and inspire kids
Naperville North seniors Madison Ding and Kathleen Nie are inspiring younger kids in Naperville and Chicago to love art like they do.
The young women were recognized recently by Superintendent Dan Bridges with Naperville District 203’s Mission Maker Award for the nonprofit group Artra, which teaches kids the basics of art theory and provides hands-on work in various art forms, such as origami, drawing, cartoons and painting.
Ding said studies have shown students who have access to the arts in and out of school tend to have higher academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.
“Visual art experiences also reduce stress and anxiety while increasing self-esteem,” Ding said. “Not only do our free art lessons spark artistic interests, but we also hope to inspire kids’ creativity and confidence within the community.”
The free art discovery camp began at the Alive Center in Naperville just south of their school. Over the past year, it expanded into Chicago children’s hospitals like LaRabidia and Shriner’s and the Peace Corner Youth Center in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.
Ding and Nie said when they were sophomores, they planned for Artra (the word art spelled forward and backward) to be a means to promote and sell student art with the proceeds donated to charities.
Nie said the problem was that students didn’t want to part with their pieces. “That business model didn’t work out,” she said.
The pair switched directions to offer art camps, something both Ding and Nie said they found much more rewarding.
“Teaching is more impactful,” said Ding, 17, of Lisle.
“We can reach more people in this than we could through the other way,” said Nie, 18, of Naperville.
Ding and Nie had their art students fold bookmarks that look like monsters that fit on the corner of a book page.
Ding said they knew the kids in the Austin neighborhood don’t have the same resources as kids in Naperville. While the resources might be different, she said the passion for art was not.
“They were the exact same; the kids were eager to learn,” Ding said.
She said art is something every person should be able to experience and can be very uplifting.
And it can be a great stress-reliever. Ding said she finds comfort in writing little messages to friends and crafting the paper into origami hearts that she puts into jars.
“For me, art really changed my life,” Nie said.
Nie said when she moved to Naperville when she was 8 years old and knew only broken English.
“I couldn’t express myself without language,” she said.
Feeling lonely and isolated, Nie turned to art for expression.
A decade later, Nie said art gives her and Ding a break from the competition to excel at school. “That’s the one thing in our lives that’s not competitive,” Nie said.
As seniors, the two are looking for younger students with a passion for art to take over their nonprofit when they leave for college where they both plan to study economics.
Both say the effort is rewarding.
“I might be able to help someone find an interest in art,” Nie said. “It feels great to know I can contribute to someone’s life.”
“Working with these children allows us to spread our passion, but is also a very humbling experience,” Ding said. “We took it upon ourselves to make the little difference that we can and hopefully, inspire at least something in children less privileged than we are.”