Walking up to The Red Children’s Art Museum, part of a Detroit-based “social venture” called Live Coal Gallery, feels more like visiting a close friend or neighbor than stepping into a formal museum.
In fact, this small space is housed in one half of a former two-family home. Since it opened officially in April 2019 as part of Clairmount Studios, “The Red” has offered curious, creative kids the same comforting atmosphere of being in a friend’s living room.
In this setting, children have the opportunity to explore the artwork of other kids – and make some masterpieces of their own, too.
Owner Yvette Rock, a Detroit mom of four, has been part of the city’s art community for 20 years.
And she has strong feelings on the importance of art programs like this for young people.
“I think when a kid comes and sees their work hanging in a museum, it’s very encouraging,” Rock says. “‘Oh, my work is worthy?’ they say. ‘Yes, your work is worthy!’ Even if it’s your only piece ever, it’s there for others to look at and be inspired.”
Making a museum
Rock has been capturing the creativity of Detroit’s youngest artists for years. She’s always been interested in promoting children’s education and interests in art.
Her past work has included the University of Michigan Detroit Connections program, InsideOut Literary Arts program in Detroit and, in 2003, she founded the Bezalel Project – an afterschool program in affiliation with YouthWorks-Detroit.
In 2013, she converted the bottom floor of her family’s home in the historic Woodbridge neighborhood into the Live Coal Gallery. Over its two-year lifespan, the space held over 12 exhibitions and gave local artists a platform for their work.
However, Rock wanted to give more to Detroit’s youngest artists.
“Inside Live Coal Gallery, I had a small children’s room – that was more like a children’s activity room,” she says. “For many years, I’ve wanted to do something a little more – a space dedicated to young people to use. I just wanted a space where kids can exhibit their work and have a transition of going into college or the professional world of art, so this is a nice space to have that happen.”
Walking through the museum and seeing the permanent displays, it’s obvious how much Rock values the work of young people. She has been collecting student work for decades and proudly gestures to self-portraits in charcoal, oil paint and photography, each with a story about a person who is now grown.
Rock hopes the museum will be a part of inspiring the next generation of artists.
“I’m hoping that this can become a magnet for growing the collection of children’s work and showcasing it, because I think a lot of kids’ work gets forgotten and it’s kind of just seen as a school project,” she says. “To me, the artwork they create is pretty inspirational and beautiful, and for people to see it years and years later is amazing.”
A family of artists
At the front of the one-room museum is a small gift shop, and sitting among the purchasable art are small handmade dolls, pocket pets and purses crafted by Rock’s daughters.
Rock has passed down her creative gene to all four of her children, who are between the ages of 9 and 14. Her oldest, Arise, has already organized a community event at the museum – a children’s production of smash-hit musical Hamilton that had full audiences for all three nights. As of summer 2019, Arise is working on a children’s production of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which will also be premiered at The Red.
Of course, her kids’ artistic interests are no accident.
“I always exposed my kids to art. I took them to art shows. They’ve really gotten to know the local art community. When I had Live Coal Gallery in my house they were much younger, so they grew up with having a space where we open our home to the community and others to engage in art,” says Rock.
The siblings also help mom run a summer art camp, which takes place in the upstairs studio space of the museum every June and July. Parents can go to The Red’s Facebook page to see when to register.
Summer 2019 will also see the launch of nature art camp in collaboration with Sidewalk Detroit at the Eliza Howell Park. Open to ages 8 and older, the camp begins June 25, 2019 and runs 4:30-5:30 p.m. for six Tuesdays.
Exploring The Red
Since this space is dedicated to children’s art, there is plenty for young ones to explore.
Drop in any Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to take in the permanent display lining the walls.
Kids can linger and play in the creative space in the back of the museum, too, where Rock has set up wooden magnetic blocks, books that children can enjoy from the comfort of rocking chairs, a Lego play table and, of course, a drawing table.
Then head upstairs to explore the room used for art camp and workshops, or contact Rock about hosting a private workshop.
The Red Children’s Art Museum aims to give a platform to young artists and offer fun things for young people to see, explore and interact with.
Whether kids come in for a tour, workshop or performance, Rock hopes young visitors will see themselves represented and, hopefully, get inspired.