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Meet Janell Scannell and Lisa Walker of Pop up Art School in South Shore

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janell Scannell and Lisa Walker.

Janell, Lisa, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Janell: Both Lisa and I are artists and parents. Soon after we became friends we decided to do a local cable show featuring art projects for kids. It was a fun way to bring exposure to the arts to our community. From there, we taught preschool art classes at the local library. One day the library asked us if we would be interested in doing a series of four workshops for kids 8-12 years old—the classes were a hit—and Pop up Art School was born! From there it has grown from our local library to libraries north, south and west of Boston. We feel that libraries are becoming an integral part of communities: a cultural commonplace rather than a place to borrow a book.

Lisa: Janell and I grew up in city neighborhoods where art museums, galleries and working artists inspired us to pursue art education. As adults, living in the suburbs, we miss the cultural vibrancy that an urban center provides. It’s gratifying to provide a creative experience for kids that was a big part of my formative years.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
We enjoy the creative aspects of the business, such as researching artists and creating lessons. As we expand we face challenges staffing workshops during busy periods.

Pop up Art School – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Pop up Art School’s programs are a perfect fit for libraries. Students learn some art history and create a hands-on project they can take home. Funding from the libraries and local grants make it possible to have the classes’ free-of-charge to families, so they are accessible to anyone in the community.

Every summer there is a statewide library reading program theme for which we create a lesson. In 2017, the theme was “Building a Better World”. Beverly Buchanan was the featured artist. Children in our workshops created hundreds of colorfully painted cardboard houses in her style.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Our business has flourished because of word-of-mouth. Librarians have posted positive reviews of our workshops on their online forums which has led to more bookings. Catering to librarians and the needs of their patrons is Pop up Art School’s niche. It’s important that the librarian has a streamlined and professional experience with Pop up Art School from the initial contact, to the interactions we have the day of the workshop and finally, the thank you email and photos they receive of the completed projects.

The other criteria is hard to define because it is a gut feeling that a workshop is going well. We know we’ve hit the mark when the students are focused and engaged by the subject matter and materials. Our workshops are tailored so that within the structure of the lesson students are free to express themselves. That is when we get the most varied and creative results.

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