Art, Arts and Culture, Astoria, Children, Community, Long Island City, Museums and Galleries
May 30, 2019

How Two Astoria Women Are Expanding Art Education for Local Kids

Astoria locals Ashley Cavadas and Hannah Lokken both grew up as self-proclaimed “art nerds,” always crafting and creating. They both followed that passion through school—with Hannah studying Illustration & Graphic Design (…)

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Ashley Cavadas and Hannah Lokken, founders of arts education business Art Strong NYC. Photo courtesy of Art Strong.

Astoria locals Ashley Cavadas and Hannah Lokken both grew up as self-proclaimed “art nerds,” always crafting and creating. They both followed that passion through school—with Hannah studying Illustration & Graphic Design and Ashley pursuing Theatre Design—but it wasn’t until they met while getting their Masters in Art Education at Columbia that they realized their goal: to help children embrace their inner artists and offer more creative outlets to the youth in their community.

As their friendship grew and they realized they were natural collaborators, they noticed the immense lack of art education in their Queens community. Most students were not receiving art full time in New York City schools, if at all. That’s when they decided to found Art Strong, a community studio that brings exploratory art making practices including drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and more to children 2 to 16 years old.

“While we are both fortunate to teach in NYC schools, we wanted to teach lessons in our own way,” Ashley said. “We have learned a lot over the past year about running this business (and still are!) and know that we are doing something right when we have our customers coming back time and time again to participate in a new class or event.”

Currently Art Strong NYC is running classes at The Plaxall Gallery at 5-25 46th Ave in Long Island City. There they are able to introduce students to contemporary artists in a gallery setting.

Recently, the women received a $10,000 grant for winning the Startup! Business Plan Competition from the Queens Economic Development Corporation (QEDC). Perseverance played a large factor in their win, as they applied last year but only got to the finals. They stepped up their game this year and gave it all to the process, which involved attending a series of business classes, writing a 25-page business plan, and presenting in front of a panel of judges.

Art Strong Camp. Photo courtesy of Art Strong.

“We worked harder than ever this past year and were so thrilled to be recognized for our progress and commitment to art education,” Ashley said.

They’ve already used part of the grant to hire extra teaching assistants for their summer camp, and plan to mainly put the grant towards opening their own studio space next year.

This summer they’re offering four weeks of camp for which there are still spots available. Throughout the weeks children will create a portfolio of artwork including drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking and collage. They’ll play outside, collaborate, and put on a gallery show for friends and family at the end of the week.

Currently, the camps are open to children four to ten years old because the highest demand for art classes in the LIC community is primarily for younger children, but they plan to start offering classes to pre-teens and teens soon. They also have some classes and school closure day camps in June coming up in the next few weeks. All details can be found on www.artstrongnyc.com.

“We always knew that our art lessons would be process-based, no cookie cutter projects!” Hannah said of how they run their classes. “The community has been incredibly supportive and appreciates our process-based way of teaching, along with the fact that the classes are held inside of an art gallery. Every student learns new skills and techniques but always walks away with a unique work of art that they are proud of.”

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