Art Lab Owensboro, a new children’s art and science facility set to open next month, is the brainchild of Amy Burgan. She hopes Art Lab will provide an opportunity for children to have a place to connect combing art and STEM-related activities using various learning experiences.
Burgan has lived in Owensboro for 27 years and has both and elementary and college teaching background.
“I’ve thought for a really long time that Owensboro needs more consistent opportunities for kids to do art and STEM,” she said. “Science is overlooked and understudied by the vast majority of people I know.”
With degrees in elementary education, educational administration and an endorsement for gifted education, Burgan left education and took time to focus on her own art and parenting for the last 6 years. That has included running an Etsy shop and a booth at Preservation Station where she sold paintings, embroidery, jewelry and other gift items — but she always missed teaching.
In early 2019, Burgan decided to substitute teach to see if her family was at a place she could return to work full time. After taking a long-term substitute position in art this past fall, she realized how strongly she felt about being with children again and teaching.
“I really enjoyed watching children engage in the art activities I had planned,” she said.
Reflecting on her days as a 5th-grade teacher, where she often told her students that it was just as important to help them figure out how to learn on their own, she began considering ways to bring this co-curricular idea into a business.
“We rarely used textbooks for anything other than reference material,” she said. “One of the regular activities I used to do with my 5th graders was to write a letter home on Friday afternoons. I used this activity to teach grammar and style, but also to reinforce what we had learned. One time while we were writing the letter, I asked my students what they did in social studies and they didn’t remember doing any. We were in the middle of a unit on Native Americans and they were learning about how the geography and climate of different regions affected their lifestyles. So they were really surprised by how much social studies they had in science class.”
With her own children, Burgan recalled summers when friends would come over for science playdates.
“We would do messy science outside and play,” she said. “I would also do art parties where the friends would paint a project, use sidewalk chalk or experiment with tie-dye.”
Out of all of these experiences, Art Lab Owensboro was born.
“Art Lab Owensboro is about helping children see how learning fits together,” she said. “While science and art seem vastly different to most people, they really have much in common. Science is really a way of processing things — intentionally thinking about the process, expectations, and outcomes. With the right questions, children will begin to about what they are doing and how it will end up. Art is really a part of science.”
Using the connections between art, science and math, Burgan hopes to show the beauty of patterns in nature and other aspects that are “amazing and inspiring” to her.
“I am amazed that the more I learn, the less I know,” she said. “I am an avid reader and a science junkie. If I am picking something to watch it is about inventions, discoveries or nature. I find the more I learn about different things the more everything fits together and the more questions I have.”
Burgan said that there is a gap in America between learning science and being a scientist, and that children lose interest when they have to read or listen to technical information before the activity becomes hands-on.
“In this gap, we are losing thousands of great minds that could be helping solve world problems,” she said. “I would like to focus on doing science where kids discover how things work. Letting kids be kids and ask their own questions is a great way to get them to think about the science.”
Burgan plans to have a variety of materials for visual arts available for use in Open Lab as well as activity sets that help children learn about engineering and science concepts.
“I plan to offer a variety of ways for children to be involved — through Open Lab, Focus Sessions, and Workshops,” she said.
During the Open Lab times, Burgan will have a STEM activity and an art activity for children to complete with their parents. Open Lab does not include a class that is actually taught, but staff will be available to help with ideas. Attendees will have access to general art supplies, building toys, learning games, and science activities.
“This will be the perfect time to work on a poster for school, make a card for a grandparent, explore logic puzzles and visual challenges,” she said.
She said workshops will be planned around a holiday, theme or process.
“We may do soap making, wreath making, or concrete pavers,” Burgan said. “I am very open to planning Workshops based on community interest.”
One-hour classes will meet weekly. Burgan plans to offer an art class, a STEM class and an integrated science and art class.
She also plans to host Kids Night Out workshops twice a month as well as specific workshops at other times, like an egg-dying workshop in April.
Burgan said that while she planned to make open the space for children ages 4-15, adults have been showing interest in learning different crafting techniques, which she hopes to add in the future if there is enough interest.
Art Lab Owensboro will open on April 1 at 1722A Sweeney St. Information about classes can be found at Art Lab Owensboro’s Facebook Page.