ART Inc. paints a new picture of the arts for children in Peoria
When the Peoria area was named the worst area in the country for African Americans by online publication 24/7 Wall St., Jonathan and Nikki Romain took notice.
It was then that the couple decided to take their love for the arts and start a non-profit organization to better the city.
Nikki Romain is the Executive Director of ART Inc. Peoria.
“The arts can truly transcend a child’s life. For my husband and I, it saved our lives. Even if you don’t go into the arts, it can help public speaking, politicians, lawyers, everybody with theater and build that confidence,” Romain said.
ART Inc. opened in 2019 after the Romans bought the old Greeley School and turned it into a center filled with various arts programs for Peoria’s youth.
“It’s our way of having a lasting impact in children’s lives where we don’t have to abandon them. They are not going to ask themselves ‘what would Mr. Romain do?’ “What would Mrs. Nikki do?” Well, now they can come and ask us because we’re here every day. We try to come here during programs, hug and see what happens.
Romain said that because the arts are statistically the first thing to shoot when schools face budget cuts and are costly for many families, ART Inc. Peoria offers a pay-as-you-go system.
“They have a safe space. They are not at home alone or in another program where they are bored to death. They have their friends after school. We give them snacks so they have a meal. These are things they probably wouldn’t get if mom was at work,” Romain said.
ART Inc. students gain experience and learn about art through theater, dance, visual arts, sewing, knitting, robotics, coding and more through the program After School Arts and Leadership Academy. In this program, students also have time spent doing homework with the help of ART Inc. staff.
Although it is not only the after-school program and the summer program that have an impact. ART Inc. hosts an “Empower Our Girls” program where girls ages 11-17 learn about self-care, wellness, and empowerment by listening to weekly speakers.
“So these girls and children not only learn different artistic skills, but they inspire these women who come from all walks of life to pour into them. The mayor came to speak to our children. We took them to Chicago and they were able to talk to Kim Foxx, the state’s attorney,” Romain said.
Program director Joy Holmquist said she enjoys working with children and helping teach various lessons they might not otherwise have the chance to learn, such as learning to play the violin.
“To understand that what we pour into them sooner or later, they will pour into their own community. So if we do positive things with them and help them explore different things…. “Being able to see that and pour into others and work with them inspires me daily,” Holmquist said.
Coriana Carpenter is herself a high school student and a youth leadership teacher at Art Inc. She assists the staff at ART Inc. as they teach various STEM and fine arts courses and run the camp. ‘summer.
“I think it’s important for us to be advocates for the younger generation because they are the future, and we want to satisfy them as much as possible so they can channel their inner creativity and they can have a more innovative transition to the next stages of their lives,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said she is currently taking various child development and psychology courses which she is applying to her position at Art Inc. After graduating from high school, she hopes to build on her experiences from Art Inc. and become a psychologist.
“My lessons give me a bit more insight when working with children here. So it will be easier when I graduate and move on. I think Art Inc has been truly a blessing to have the experience of working with children and working in a field that I really enjoy without having a degree,” Carpenter said.
William Butts is another ART Inc. student who said he loves Art Inc.’s after-school program and summer camp because of the unique opportunities it has to do that go beyond what is offered at school.
“I like to sew, I like to draw and I like to paint and make candles. These things are really fun and I really enjoy them,” Butts said.
Lyric Yelverton said she had been a student at Art Inc for almost three years. Although her favorite activity at ART Inc. is dance lessons, Yelverton said what sets her apart the most is her teachers and the environment they’ve created for her all these years.
“They just accepted me with open arms and were really nice to me, and I appreciated that,” Yelverton said.
This appreciation goes both ways.
Co-owner Nikki Romain said it’s typical for kids to run around and hug her daily, expressing the joy they feel because of ART Inc.
Romain said a recent story about a student stuck with her:
“Sometimes he has bad days, and the other day Jonathan saw that he was having a bad day, and he went with him to the store across the street, and they were just talking. Then when he came back here he was like, ‘You know what, you’re like a dad because my dad’s in jail and I can’t see him.’ It’s just heartbreaking. But those are the little stories we hear and those are the things we think about at night,” Romain said.
ART Inc’s summer camp program includes different themes each week. If students missed the first week, there are still options to enroll by July 1…when the program ends.
More information on camp registration is available at artincpeoria.org