Water Street Studios is an art center in Batavia, IL that hosts 26 artist studios, community art classes, workshops, large and small scale are exhibits, and various other programs and events offered to the community. On September 17th, I attended their first anniversary show and followed up with an interview with their director of education, Kari Kraus.
1. How did you first become involved with Water Street Studios?
I was at Art In Your Eye [Batavia’s annual art fair] in Aug 2008. I actually was leaving the fair and heading to the pedestrian bridge and passed by a tent with a hand-made “Batavia Art Center” sign. I walked past and once I was halfway on the bridge I decided to go back and inquire. I was interested in studio space at the time as I was just moving back home to Batavia and looking for a place to create in. I walked up with my dog (Alberto) and inquired… At this time I was the assistant director of a not for profit art school and we had just weeks before discussed opening up another branch in this area. I mentioned that to the volunteer and they told me to sit down and wait for one of the people that was involved that that time. I sat and waited for almost 45 minutes with my dog in my lap in their tent. Steven Lockwood (a co-founder with me and Gallery Director) came out and was arranging papers and after about 5 minutes turned to me and said “can I help you?” I explained to him my story and he invited me to a meeting where I went with my old boss…I ended up joining the board just a week or two later.
2. What is the central mission behind WSS?
Batavia Artists Association at Water Street Studios was founded to advance art education and appreciation by developing the promotion of fine arts in Batavia and neighboring communities. As an integral part of our community, BAA/WSS will create a personal and diverse venue for creativity, collaboration, expression and education.
3. What was Batavia’s role in helping WSS become a reality?
The city was pretty supportive, in partnership with Batavia Enterprises they jointly funded the build out. We have a lot of support from key city workers such as Bill McGrath, the city administrator and also exhibiting artist at WSS. Also the late Linnea Miller, city council member, was always very supportive when we presented to the city.
4. What do you feel the reaction has been from the community at large to this new art center?
We have had a really positive reaction. Every week we have a few new visitors to the gallery who are amazed that a facility like ours exists outside of a major metropolitan city. We have really started to build a family within the community. I get to see a bunch of familiar faces at our opening of the community members that support us. We have also had a positive response to our membership opportunities. Our most recent show was juried by a professor at the School of the Art Institute and he said that he was surprised that Batavia had such an urban vibe for a small town and that WSS was a big part of that.
5. How has the education side of Water Street Studios grown and changed since the beginnings of the organization?
I started offering classes in the fall of 08. At that time our schedule was created and designed by me and just about 5 teachers offered around 12 classes. Now, I am able to offer over 40 classes with 24 different instructors! I am also now offering a class per trimester that is from a visiting artist, this fall we are offering a figurative watercolor class by Jeannie Mcguire. She is an artist that is flying in from Pittsburg to teach here at WSS. She was a featured artist in the August 2010 edition Watercolor Artist Magazine. I also now am offering or have offered courses in mind body wellness, languages, and performance arts…Overall we have grown tremendously in the past 2 years and I can see things getting even better in the next few!
6. What do you consider to be the greatest challenge about your position with WSS?
The greatest challenge is actually balancing it all. My job, while full time at WSS, is a volunteer position. I have to have another full time job to “pay the bills”. This leaves me stretched really thin sometimes and I feel it is difficult to give WSS all of the attention it always deserves. (Especially because I run the school of art entirely by myself). I think that the biggest challenge is that I do not have the luxury to only have one job.
7. What would you consider the greatest challenge for WSS?
I think that we have overcome a tremendous amount of hurdles in the past but a hurdle that I think we will still need to overcome is maintaining our status in the community. We are all volunteer run and that can be really tough on us as if a member of the board leaves it will leave a big hole and will take a lot of hard work to find an appropriate replacement. There are also a lot of misconceptions on how WSS started and the people that are really involved. I think a lot of people don’t really know the story of how we were formed and it can be challenging and trying.
8. What has been the greatest reward thus far?
The greatest reward has been the response from some of my students. I have kids that take my class again and again. They are really starting to build a family within the school of art. I have also had parents come up to me and tell me some really heartwarming things. I had one mom tell me that her son took my Star Wars Film class and ever since then he has been drawing, sculpting, talking about art, and had really opened up at home. She credited me with helping him focus on a positive activity and growing personally. It was really great to hear that I had such a positive influence.
9. What has surprised you most during your time at WSS?
What surprises me most is the addition to my family and personal life. I have met some of the most amazing people that I will be connected to for the rest of my life. I have truly gained a family in the board and some of our artists. We are a quirky and odd yet happy family. I did not know that I could grow to love the people I work with so much.
10. What is the greatest thing you’ve learned about founding and maintaining an art center?
There are a lot of things that I have learned; I really grew up on this project. I came in fresh out of college and really have learned a lot of skills, too many to count. The most important thing I have learned is to really stay true to what you love and to persevere. Also, how to deal with stress. Not to worry what others think or their misconceptions of how things were started, how things work, or who really is involved and to what extent. I also learned that when you have a passion, follow it and the rest will follow.
11. Finally, where would you like to see WSS head in the future?
I would like to see WSS expand to be an all-encompassing art center. I would like for us to be able to have music recording studios, a dance studio, and a small stage area for performances. I would also like to see our awareness in the community and surrounding area grow exponentially and to be seen as the premiere place to display and buy art as well as take classes and rent studio space.
Water Street Studios is located in the heart of downtown Batavia, IL. Their 1st Year Anniversary show runs until December 31st.