By: Sonya Poweska
One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet with and getting to know the artists in each and every community where I have worked. In each community, there have been a few special artists who have inspired me and re-ignited my passion for what I do. If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of Melissa Mazar, owner/operator and creative genius behind The Children’s Art Factory, than you are missing out. Melissa has created a world in which art, creativity, play, learning, and imagination all go hand in hand. She says that the she is inspired by the children, but Melissa is also a real source of inspiration to all of those who have had the great fortune of getting to know her.
Over the years, Melissa has participated with Guelph Arts Council in a number of ways—she has been an artist, an event participant/coordinator, a member, and a Guelph Arts Council Youth Award recipient. In each of these capacities, she has brought a fresh and amazing perspective. With the launch of her new video, which premiered at this year’s Guelph Film Festival, Melissa continues to educate us that art is play and that children will amaze you with what they can learn if they are given the opportunity to explore life through art.
While this might not be a new concept, each and every time I talk with Melissa I am struck by all of the ways that she has engaged children to learn through art. In Art is Play, Melissa states that by letting children experience art as play, they are able to learn valuable negotiating skills and are encouraged to explore and discover new concepts while also making their own rules. This philosophy is carried over into The Children’s Art Factory where children are free to paint on the walls and windows, slop around with soapy water, mix potions and magic concoctions, and define their own parameters for play. Key to this learning is a concentration on the process of art rather than the product. This, Melissa confesses, is what drew her into creating The Children’s Art Factory in the first place. All too often, classes and activities concentrate on leaving a space with a completed piece of art—this becomes the focus of the activity (especially around the holidays). Melissa offers an inspired and creative alternative to traditional programming by allowing kids to take charge and let their imagination run wild. Creating isn’t the goal, the goal is creativity. To me, this is perhaps the most powerful message that Melissa shares. In this regard, she is educating the parents as much as she is encouraging the children.
Art is Play is directed by Oscar-nominated artist Erin Faith Young. It is a terrific short that allows Melissa to impart just some of her wisdom while the camera explores the magic of her space. It’s pretty obvious that every child present is happily engaged in art as play. While these moments may seem playfully innocent, Melissa, as well as the children’s parents, are imparting lessons on their children that will last a lifetime and will shape the way that they, as adults, negotiate the parameters of the world in which they live, work, learn, share, and play.
Melissa offers opportunities for children, parents, caregivers, and community members to engage with her in a variety of ways. Drop-ins, birthday parties, or “scheduled classes” (which Melissa says are coming) are all offered in her space. One thing to know about Melissa is that she is an ever-present face in Guelph and can be seen at a variety of community events including Art on the Street. And for those who just can’t make it to any of the above events or activities, The Children’s Art Factory also makes their “kits” available for purchase just in time for the holiday season. She doesn’t even stop there! As an entrepreneur, Melissa offers informal mentorship opportunities to community children by setting up pop-up shops/stands in front of her store. It continues to amaze me the ways in which Melissa and The Children’s Art Factory inform and shape the experience and voice of the children who play, the caregivers who support, and the community that is developed as a result.