The Art Room (8710 Third Avenue), a local after-school art studio for kids, is celebrating its fifth anniversary in business here in Bay Ridge this week. There are classes for kids aged 2-11 where they are introduced to a wide range of media and learn about some important figures in art history. Considering the cuts in arts programming in public schools over the past decades, the program fills an important need in the neighborhood. Owner and art teacher Leigh Brannan moved here from Washington, DC where she had a similar business before relocating to New York. She met and married Bay Ridge native Justin Brannan while working in financial services, and he encouraged her to open an art school here. I spoke on the phone yesterday with Leigh to get the skinny:
When did The Art Room officially open?
We opened our doors for business on June 5th, 2010. It was slow going at first. This was a completely new kind for business for Bay Ridge, but we’ve done very well.
Enrollment is up?
Definitely. We’ve just about doubled our enrollment in the past five years and have a little bit of a waiting list now. There are only two of us teaching and we want to make sure the kids have a quality experience, so we limit the class sizes.
Considering your success, are there any plans to expand?
Well, we would love to add more classes, take drop-ins, maybe have a clay table, but we don’t really have the room or the revenue to expand. Our rent just went up about 30%, so we’re still struggling. We did sign a new five-year lease, though, so we’ll be here at least until then. We’re thinking about hiring another instructor, so if we find the right person, that will really help us take on more classes.
30%? Wow! That’s a big hike!
It’s not easy being a small business owner. I thought working in the finance industry was a lot of stress, but this is 24/7.
Your background is in studio arts right? Do you still maintain your own art practice?
I have a BFA but The Art Room really takes up all of my time. I haven’t been able to keep painting for myself. I do stay involved in the local art scene, though. I served as a judge on the current Storefront Art Walk, so that was a really good opportunity to be involved with the work that’s happening here in South Brooklyn.
What other types of services do you offer besides the group art classes? Do you have other programming?
Well, I’m glad you asked that! (laughter). Like every small business, we look for ways to maximize our use of the space, so we do individual lessons, plus we rent out the space for birthday parties with an art theme. Those have been popular. We also run a summer camp that runs for half days throughout the summer. One of my favorite services is helping students prepare their portfolios for submission to middle school and high school art programs.
Really? That’s interesting. What does that involve?
It depends on the student and how much work they already have. Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping them edit the work and knowing which pieces will impress the judges. Other kids need more of a boost so we help them re-work some pieces or create new work.
How many students altogether would you guess have been through your programs? How many kids have you reached?
(counting)… I’d say about 700 kids? Maybe 800?
Wow, that’s a lot of kids! You’ve had a real impact on the neighborhood. Must be a pretty great feeling?
It’s a really great feeling!
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
We still have spaces available for the summer art camp. We run half days and it’s a weekly registration so it gives parents a lot of flexibility.