Kelly Affleck went to kindergarten career day dressed as an artist, and she’s glad it worked out. Years of graphic design, craft shows and teaching art to kids is what she has to show for her passion.
And she has shared that passion with 10, 11 to 14-year-old Renton girls. Makers in Action was created by Affleck this year so her advanced sewing class students could learn about the business side of crafting. The girls recently sold their products from a 10-week course at the Renton Holiday Bazaar for a total of $1,136.50.
“The girls in Makers in Action have been in my sewing class since it started so they’ve been in it for three years, and they are so passionate and they remind me of me.” Affleck said.”Typically when you’re signing up your kids they’re really interested in art. If you’re going to drive them to a class Saturday morning at 9 a.m. they have to be really committed.”
Makers in Action is great because the kids want to be there, Affleck said. They identify as makers and creative people. She said that the time you get in art to reflect on and create yourself, makes her wish she had a hundred Kennydale buildings, and clones to keep it going for even more kids.
The unique aspects of art is something Affleck said is missing in schools.
“So it’s neat it’s becoming a part of their identity, to be a creative person, because it’s not offered in schools anymore. So much in education is meant to be like the other. Everyone needs to know what two-plus-two is, and then we get to move on. But in art, you get to become yourself. You don’t want to be like the other person,” Affleck said.
Affleck asked her students earlier this year if creating something for a show would interest them. They then spent the summer doing different workshops to show that there was more than one way to solve the creative ideas in their heads, Affleck said. Essentially the next ten weeks were taking the skills Affleck had taught them in three years of sewing class and applying them to life and business. She also taught them to value crafts they made and pay themselves, one of the biggest mistakes crafters make, she said.
The girls quickly caught on to the business lessons, Affleck said. She said she has a Montessori-style teaching approach since that’s how she was raised, and how she raised her kids.
At the Bazaar, items like Meghan’s Yeti ornaments and Julie and Sophea’s plush teddy bears sold out. The other girls also did well with sleep masks, hair clips, zipper pouches, trivets, coasters and pet dish mats. Affleck praised Alina’s branding skills when she created a classic grandma quilt and relabeled it as a “cat quilt.”
Affleck said at the bazaar she could see the girls using problem solving skills that only experiences like this can foster.
The building was abandoned for ten years before Affleck asked for it, she said. Even now, not much is noticeable but the public restrooms, “closed for winter,” when you look at the facility from the parking lot outside. Inside, however, there’s an explosion of color, crafts, paper and paints. A long table, kitchen and a toy corner for impatient art toddlers to play, stand out amongst the supplies. Affleck owns everything in there besides the tables and chairs.
“So it kind of started as a class and a half a week, and then every year I’ve doubled my attendance and my classes,” she said. “This is my fourth year and I do summer camps and weekly classes for preschoolers to adults. It’s just grown on its own.”
Affleck was a graphic designer for 25 years, including creating Winnie the Pooh designs on T-shirts for Disney, but after having kids planned to be a stay at home mom. That didn’t last for long and she jumped between hosting big craft classes for moms out of her house to going back to work in the design industry, but eventually landing back at the Renton Community Center as an art teacher, when she requested the Kennydale building.
To keep things simple and avoid child labor law problems, Affleck took in the money the kids earned under Tomato Tomäto Creative. Half of it was used to purchase gift cards for local nonprofit Birthday Dreams, and the other half is going into funds for the girl’s materials for next year’s Holiday Bazaar. Affleck said she originally planned to give it all to Birthday Dreams, but saw how excited the group was about doing a show again next year.
The group recently had their last meeting before January, when sewing class begin again. Affleck explained the costs of taxes and the booth, that trickled net profit to $659.83. Taking out $330 for birthday dreams, the group has $329.83 for their next making endeavor. She also talked about business branding, investors, special orders, what gifts to offer Birthday Dreams and paying illustrators for their work. The girls who created a teddy bear used illustrations from their friend An for the creation.
“It was nice to see that people enjoyed the things that we made,” Julie, who co-stitched the teddy bears, said of the Bazaar.
“(When I was there) I also felt kind of nervous, because what if people didn’t like it?” Sienna, who made the masks, added.
Affleck said she was so proud of Makers in Action, still riding off the glow of how well they did. She said felt like a proud momma, but she’s just a guide. With the exception of her actual daughter being one of the members.
One of the Makers didn’t come to the final meeting, and wouldn’t be continuing with the class due to gymnastics. Affleck said it’s hard losing kids to sports when she sees art as an important thing, too.
Art is as important as any technical or math skill, Affleck said, and a lot more accessible than some people think. There’s no wrong answers in art, and it builds memories and self-confidence.
“It might not build a technical future, like IT or something, but it helps build them as a person, it helps evolve them,” Affleck said. “And that seems to be a missing link these days. Compassion isn’t taught, and that is a learned skill. It’s a rough world out there right now, so why not spend a little more time doing some art? You know? Just sit down, relax for 10 minutes, do something that doesn’t have to end with the correct answer. Just explore.”