Art 101’s debut in downtown Farmington, in November of 2017, was – well – subtle.
One of Art 101’s classes that fall consistently had a roster of one.
“But Sophie kept that class alive,” co-owner and manager Kim Messing says with a laugh.
Part of the challenge, of course, was the art studio’s peek-a-boo location behind The Rocking Horse (now closed) and next to Neu Kombucha.
But outreach efforts, online marketing, and word-of-mouth soon brought many more kids and teens to Art 101 for (pay as you go) classes, so that now, they occasionally have to turn students away.
“That first year, we had about 80 students a week, and by the second year, we were at over a hundred a week,” says Art 101 co-owner Kevin Messing (who met wife Kim when they were both art students at Wayne State University). “ … We’ve constrained our growth because we’re so big on quality. … There’s no point in growing if the instruction’s not as good.”
Kim Messing assists a student.
Individual attention from instructors is indeed one of Art 101’s biggest selling points (the ratio of students to teachers is about 4:1), as is its emphasis on letting students choose subjects that excite them.
“Our philosophy is, teach the fundamentals through projects that inspire the kids,” says Kevin Messing. “ … Instead of drawing a cone and a sphere, they can draw a character from a video game. And while they’re doing that, we can teach them about light and shadow, and different rendering techniques.”
Art 101’s course of instruction for students – which gets them to explore various media (watercolor, pen and ink, acrylics, pastels, etc.) while they work through different types of loosely guided projects – was established many years ago by Kevin Messing’s father, who owned and managed Livonia’s Art Store and More for 20 years.
During that time, the business was primarily an art supply store, but along the way, Kevin’s father started taking on students, too.
When Scott Messing, Kevin’s brother, took over the business, he focused more on offering classes, since more and more people were buying their art supplies online.
“We settled on Art 101 as the new name at that point (in 2003), with the idea that what we were doing was introducing lots of kids and teens to art,” says Kevin Messing. “ … There are so many more art-related careers out there now than there used to be. You can go into illustration, fashion, architecture, car design – and kids are so smart about career options now. … A lot of students who went through our program are in professional creative fields now.”
Yet even students who aren’t necessarily expecting to pursue art in a professional capacity benefit from creating it.
“We used to say – our little slogan was, ‘learning to draw is learning to see,’” says Kevin Messing.
“It helps you see things differently,” says Kim Messing. “It just has this impact on how you look at the world.”
Kevin Messing works at an advertising agency – in the art department, naturally – on weekdays, but both he and Kim (who runs the Farmington studio full-time) had previously worked at Livonia’s Art 101.
What led to the opening of a second Art 101 studio in downtown Farmington?
“We’d always wanted to, and we liked the idea of being in a downtown space,” says Kevin Messing.
Indeed, being part of a downtown commercial district was one of the main draws, as was Farmington’s close-but-not-too-close proximity to Livonia’s Art 101.
“We liked that we’d be part of this community and all its events,” says Kevin Messing. “And it’s really welcoming. When we moved in, a lot of people stopped in to tell us that they were excited we were here and that Farmington needs things like this. And that makes us want to stay.”
“So it was partly a function of geography, but also, when we were looking at different buildings and spaces, we thought, ‘This feels right,’” Kim Messing says. “It just feels like the place we want to be. And when kids get dropped off for a class, it’s nice that parents can just stay and walk around town, and get a coffee or go get a few things at Fresh Thyme. They don’t have to drive home just to turn around and come back.”
Will those parents (and other adults) ever have the chance to get in on the act at some point, by way of Art 101 classes?
Maybe. Though the original iteration of the business offered instruction for adults, Art 101 currently focuses exclusively on kids and teens.
“We found that while parents are really good at making sure their kids get where they need to be, they’re often not able to do that for themselves,” says Kim Messing.
Kevin Messing assists a student.
“It’s something we’re still considering,” says Kevin Messing. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Something on Art 101’s horizon that’s closer and more certain, though, is the addition of digital illustration to the media mix. “That’s a lot of what I do (in advertising),” said Kevin Messing. “So we’ll likely be piloting some of that soon.”
Regardless, Art 101’s mission will always remain the same, according to Kim Messing: “We’re mostly trying to get (students) inspired, and then give them the tools to do something about it.”