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Columbia woman offers bilingual art workshop for children

An adult woman wearing glasses smiles next to a little girl who is also smiling. They are seated at a table with seven silver buckets full of different art supplies.
Kassidy Arena
Cristina Nuñez poses for a photo with the first student who walked into the kids art workshop Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Columbia, Mo. Ivanna, 6, brought her own artwork to show Nuñez before class began.

Cristina Nuñez welcomed 6-year-old Ivanna to her garage that’s been converted into a large art studio.

Ivanna proudly pulls out her markers from home: “Traje colores!"

Nuñez smiled, impressed by Ivanna's preparedness, and also points to all the other materials in the workshop.

Nuñez offers almost anything her students need in her bilingual taller de arte para niños, or kids art workshop.

“Es una actividad que he venido desarrollando por 20 años," ella dijo. "Pero hace cinco, desde que me mudé a Estados Unidos no lo había podido hacer."

"It’s an activity that I have been developing for, like, 20 years," she said. "But for the past five, which is when I moved to the U.S., I wasn’t able to do it."

Nuñez is from Venezuela and has lived in Korea as well, but she decided to finally join her family in Columbia, Missouri.

“Aunque me encante, pero creo que nada como estar cerca de la familia. Decidí venirme para acá," ella explicó.

She’s been hosting a workshop like this for decades, first in Venezuela, and decided to continue it in Columbia. Currently four students — three Spanish speakers and one English speaker — are in the class. Emily Koonse’s 7-year-old son Finn is one of them.

A young boy draws on paper with an orange colored pencil. He is drawing little orange circles.
Kassidy Arena
Finn, 7, draws what he envisions as a "sour" piece of artwork. Every few moments, he paused, admiring his work, and went back to coloring.

"Finn's looking at and making art a lot and I just thought it would be really special to connect with somebody that I connected with and whose artwork we get to see around and has, you know, such like a great kicking off point for inspiration," Koonse said.

Nuñez is an artist herself, and surrounds her students with her own artwork in the studio. Each class, the kids will learn about a different artist through different materials ranging from acrylics and chalk to wood panels and recycled materials.

Koonse added: “Just what [Nuñez] is doing with color alone is like, you know... I'm sure she's going to pick wonderful artists to use as inspiration for this workshop.”

For the first class, the students focused on flavor in art. But first, Nuñez showed the students a video of an artist they all knew: Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, talking about how there is never failure in art. The video was in English with Spanish subtitles.

Studies show art can help children develop cognitive skills, encourage creativity and open up opportunities for self-expression. And those are all things Nuñez wants to make sure are accessible to all kids, no matter their native language.

She admitted it can be a little daunting to teach a class constantly switching between English and Spanish, but it’s worth it.

“La libertad para hacer cosas no se debe bloquear con nada," ella dijo. "O no se debería dejar. Y por eso me parece que mientras menos requisitos tenga la actividad que les pongo, más creativos son."

“The freedom to make things should not be blocked by anything," she said. "Or it shouldn’t be stopped. And that’s why it seems to me, the fewer activity requirements I put on them, the more creative they are."

A woman stands on the opposite side of a table from four children coloring. She is preparing paint on palettes.
Kassidy Arena
Nuñez prepares paint for one of her students who requested pink paint. She encourages her students to choose whichever color, of whichever medium to draw to their heart's content. She doesn't believe in putting requirements on her students' work.

The classes are open for up to eight children around the age of seven or older. It costs $120 per month, and all materials are included, as well as some snacks.

Nuñez wants her students to know art doesn’t have a right or a wrong, that it can look like and be like whatever they want.

“Entonces, no se trata de hay algo mal hecho o bien hecho. Es la forma que ellos tengan de hacer lo que van a desarrollar," ella dijo. "Entonces la idea es que jueguen, que se diviertan, que conozcan el arte, que conozcan sin querer poco a poco la historia del arte y jueguen creando cosas diferentes."

“So, it is not about something badly done or well done. It is the way they have to do what they are going to develop," she said. "So the idea is that they play, have fun, learn about art, know little by little art history and playing with creating different things."

Kid artists Ivanna and Finn are working on their artwork that is supposed to capture the flavor of sour, or ácido. Finn took his time drawing little orange balls in consecutive circles, but Ivanna just finished her drawing of small, squiggly colorful worms.

"Ya terminé," she said quietly, holding up her paper.

Nuñez responded to the students in whichever language they used: "¿Terminaste?" she asked Ivanna.

The art classes will continue every week, ranging from focusing on favorite foods and flowers to capturing sound and personality in art.

For the audio transcript, click here.

Kassidy Arena was the Engagement Producer for KBIA from 2022-2023. In her role, she reported and produced stories highlighting underrepresented communities, focused on community outreach and promoting media literacy. She was born in Berkeley, California, raised in Omaha, Nebraska and graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
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