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Spending Time

Brea Mall is a retail center with a difference: free art lessons.


Whoever said "the best things in life are free" never bought art supplies for a kid.

Even basic materials such as markers, paints and glue can put a dent in the family budget, especially if the child belongs to the "art in bulk" school of thought: ("I came. I drew. I stuck it on the refrigerator.").

In the days of healthy art education budgets, budding Michelangelos and -angelinas expressed themselves in school. Today's parents are challenged to find affordable ways to fill such needs.

Here's one answer: the mall.

Starting Saturday, children and adults can learn ceramics painting in free workshops at the Brea Mall through the Kids in Residence program. Led by professional artist April Bellantoni of San Diego, the series begins with a drop-in workshop for children 3 and older.

Through May 11, Bellantoni will lead one- and two-hour ceramics painting classes for school-age children, teens and adults. Instruction and materials are free for all sessions, which will be held in the mall's 300-square-foot Artist Studio. (Class size is limited, so early sign-up is advised.)

Kids in Residence is an arts education program recently launched by the mall. In addition to hands-on workshops and classes, there is a performing arts series (this month's offering: a Mother's Day-themed performance by theater troupe J.P. Nightingale on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.).

Under the Kids in Residence banner, the mall has underwritten classes at Kraemer Middle School and Brea-Olinda High School; there are plans to sponsor other arts classes. The mall also sponsors activities at the Brea Art Gallery's Children's Art Space.

Brea Mall marketing director Darren Thomas said he spends about a third of his department's budget on the program. The payback, he said, is huge: Children are exposed to enriching arts experiences, and the mall enjoys an identity as a community-minded supporter of the arts.

If the program happens to produce yowza visuals for promotional materials, that's a bonus, said Thomas, who has featured program artists' work in catalogs, outdoor advertisements and direct mail.

Purists may balk at the arts-meets-marketing approach. Still, the arrangement gives young artists a unique forum. There is a changing display of recent student works (decorative bowls by high school students are currently featured; some are available for sale), and children's art has been featured on giveaways such as holiday note cards and gift tags.

A fashion show Saturday will include hand-painted silk accessories made in an earlier series. Thomas plans to sell copies of selected ornaments made by participants in Bellantoni's May 5 and 6 workshops (see accompanying box). Profits will go back into the Kids in Residence program, Thomas said.

"Kids in Residence is kind of the heart of our whole marketing campaign, 'Brea Mall: Make an Impression,' " Thomas said. "We've tried to marry this community relations and special events program with the marketing of a shopping center. . . .

"We saw a need in our community in regard to the arts," Thomas added. He and project consultants Catherine and Steven Schwartz spent almost nine months preparing the program, working with area arts educators and community groups and screening professional artists and instructors.

Catherine Schwartz says the program gives participants a positive form of expression. Some of the workshops encourage parent and child to work side by side, which "lets them see each other in a new light," she said

Bellantoni said she's seen how satisfying it can be for a child to create unique and functional art: "Children have a strong, strong desire to create something all their own. The look on their faces when they come back [to pick up a fired piece] and see this beautiful, shiny thing that they've made all on their own is just amazing."

Participants in the longer sessions will learn the full process of ceramics painting, she said, including how to create and lay out a design, transfer it to the pre-cast ceramic piece, select colors and apply paints. The pieces will be glazed and fired off-site and be available for pickup about one week after each session.

Visitors can chat with Bellantoni as she works on her own line of whimsical, hand-cast home accessories ($20 to $100 in selected Nordstrom stores in San Diego and Orange counties).

Bellantoni, whose body of work also includes commissioned murals and furniture, says she's inspired by the fresh approach children bring to the creative process, especially their use of color.

"Their color ideas are very exciting," she said. "They take forever picking their paints, and they come up with some great combinations. They really take their time with it, and they're so proud of what they turn out."

* April Bellantoni leads free ceramics painting classes in the Brea Mall's Artist Studio, lower level of the center court, 1065 Brea Mall. Saturday through May 11. Free; registration required. (714) 990-2732.


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