By Bernie Petit
Ask Tashrey Williams what he likes most about Studio 345, the Arts & Science Council’s out-of-school time youth development program for high school students, and initially he’ll give you a typical teenage boy answer.
“The snacks,” said Williams, a senior at Myers Park High School. “Everybody likes snack food.”
But then Williams will open up about how welcome his teaching artists made him feel on his first day at the studio two years ago and being encouraged to make his music the way he wants it to be.
He’ll talk about how he’s grown as a writer and as a performer. He’ll tell you that, because of Studio 345, he now wants to go to Full Sail University in Florida to pursue a career in music after he earns enough transfer credits at Central Piedmont Community College.
And then he’ll tell you what he really likes most about the program.
“You’re free to have fun and you have the freedom to create your art,” he said. “It’s a good place to be instead of being out there running the streets or whatever, doing stuff that’s not good for you.”
Williams is one of 24 students in Studio 345 that will graduate from high school this month. For the second consecutive year, 100-percent of the seniors enrolled in the program will graduate.
Inspired by the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburg, ASC launched Studio 345 three years ago to use the arts to educate and inspire students to stay in school, graduate and purse goals beyond high school.
But it’s more than that, said Ketsana Theppasone, a senior at West Charlotte High School.
“It’s a judgement-free zone where you can bring your ideas to life,” said Theppasone, who has been with Studio 345 all three years. “You don’t have to be a student – you can be a visitor and you can feel the energy level of the classes.”
That environment not only fuels creativity, she said, but it also builds characteristics that will help later in life, such as leadership, learning to deal with failure and success, and thinking independently.
“It definitely helps you come out of our shell,” she said.
Theppasone started in the digital media arts class before trying her hand at painting and screen printing (“I wanted to challenge myself artistically,” she said). She plans to do volunteer work locally this fall before heading to the Chicago School of the Arts in the spring.
“Right now, I just want to stay near art because I feel that’s what calms me,” she said.
When asked about what she will miss about Studio 345, Theppasone talked about the people and how she had been inspired by her classmates and her teaching artists.
“Everyone is always excited to be there and to work on their art,” she said.
What she didn’t mention were the snacks. But then again, why would she.
Who doesn’t like snacks?