Pratt Center brings art into kids' lives - Kids Art Works is free vehicle for self-expression

When Pratt Fine Arts Center first opened in 1976, the smell of fresh baked bread drifted into its classrooms on a daily basis. That's no surprise considering the school sits next to a former Wonder Bread bakery.

The Pratt Center's 20,000-square-foot facility, beside Pratt Park between E. Yesler Way and S. Jackson Street, provides instruction in drawing, glass blowing, sculpting, print making and jewelry fabrication.

Though the school attracts many adults, its youngest students may benefit most from the curriculum. In 1990, the Pratt Center started a free program called Kids Art Works to reach out to younger children, 6 to 11years old, in the neighborhood. Funded by grants and donations, the program serves 200 Central Area youths each year, as well as children from outlying neighborhoods.

The project has been so successful that it recently received grant funding for a new Youth Art Works program that will serve middle-school children.

The Pratt Center's mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts by providing a place where people from diverse backgrounds can learn and work together. The school was named after slain activist Edwin T. Pratt (1930-1969), known for his commitment to civil rights reform. He was shot and killed in the doorway of his Shoreline, Wash., home in December 1969.

Edwin T. Pratt's legacy lives on at the Pratt Fine Art Center. Originally a Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation initiative, the Pratt Center became an independent non-profit in 1976 to provide visual arts training in the diverse Central District.

Interested community members helped develop the program through a citizens advisory council that included James W. Washington Jr., a noted sculpture artist and civil rights activist.

Deputy Director Damien Murphy, who has worked at Pratt for 13 years, said that the demographics of the surrounding area have changed since the Pratt formed as a non-profit 25 years ago.

"Though African American students still form the largest component, there are now many Hispanic and Asian students attending," Murphy said.

Many of the children who participate in the classes come from the surrounding Pratt Park, Jedkins Park and Jackson Street neighborhoods. There are also a number of students who come from outlying areas, such as Capitol Hill, Ballard and West Seattle.

Kids hear about the program through their parents, by word of mouth or "just wander right through the front door wondering what's going on."

Murphy views art as a valuable activity for young people, and enjoys seeing students grow in the program.

"One of the funnest things," remarked Murphy, "is seeing kids who have graduated that have made art a part of their life."

He pointed out that many former students have become working artists, or have continued on to four-year art schools.

One of Pratt's older students, Jennifer, 19, started taking classes a year and a half ago. Last spring, she was the recipient of the Pohlman/ Knowles scholarship, which she applied toward classes at Pratt. Even more, The Wedgewood resident now works as a part-time teacher's aide in Pratt's Kids Art Works program.

Kids Art Works began as a summer program but was then transformed into a year-around weekly program. The classes take place on Saturdays and are divided into two groups: kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grade. Enrollment varies from 10 to 20 students per class.

Instructor Rickie Wolfe, who has been teaching in the Kids Art Works program for two years, enjoys working with Pratt's culturally diverse teaching staff.

"It brings a different perspective to the classes," Wolfe said.

Wolfe gives the students weekly assignments that culminate in a finished project at the end of the fourth week. She emphasized that these hands-on activities are strictly for fun.

Recent projects included hot air balloons made of colored tissue paper, beads and strawberry baskets and Chinese New Year calligraphy lanterns fabricated with bright tissue. In the lantern project, students learned how to write their names with Chinese characters.

On the last day of class, Wolfe organizes a gallery show and party for the young students.

Though the Kids Art Works program focuses on younger children, kids ages 11 to 13 will soon be able to participate in the new Youth Works Program which starts fall quarter.

High school students participate in adult classes, but can apply for scholarships which are based on merit and need. The Gregory M. Robinson Pathways Program is one scholarship that provides tuition, supplies and career mentoring to young artists of color.

In the upcoming year, Wolfe hopes to get funding in place for a proposed after-school program that would provide weekly on-site instruction in neighborhood youth organizations.

Kids Art Works and Kids Youth Works classes begin on Saturday, Sept. 18. For a fall schedule and other information on the Pratt Fine Arts Center, visit, or call (206) 328-2200. Pratt is located at 1902 South Main Street, Seattle.[[In-content Ad]]