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Monroe Street Arts Center

Monroe Street Arts Center volunteer Shaena Kulinski, left, and art teacher Abby Tindal, right, assist Abigail Kaiser, second from left, and Sara Sweilam with an art project at the Madison center's Open Art Studio program.

Brenda Mueller was thrilled to have a creative outlet for her daughter, who attended a recent open art studio at the Monroe Street Arts Center for students with special needs.

"Sara loves to paint," Mueller said about her daughter, who has Down syndrome. "She does a lot of painting at home."

But the arts center program, called OASis, also gives the participants a chance to socialize with others, said Beth Jesion, art department head and lead art teacher.

OASis will be offered through May from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the last Friday of each month except this month when it will run Friday, March 22, due to spring break for area students. It is open to those ages 6 and up, and registration by phone is encouraged.

The program is free due to a $1,000 grant from The Capital Times Kids Fund.

OASis started in September, and Jesion said it will be offered again next school year. The arts center also would like to expand the program in the future such as offering it twice a month or having a day-long program, she said.

At the February program, Sara sat next to her friend, Abigail Kaiser, 8, another Crestwood third-grader who also has Down syndrome.

"I like the beads a lot," said Abigail as she was stringing colorful beads onto the pipe cleaner stem of the flower she was creating.

Jesion said the program tends to draw four to eight participants, including teenagers, for each class. When they meet new friends, they tend to come back, she said.

The program is designed to provide a safe environment for exploring art, she said.

"For us, it's more about the experience of creating the art," she said. "We want them to focus on developing a confidence."

Each month, the class usually tackles two projects. In February, the students used markers to color a face that was designed to be a self-portrait, which was split down the middle for one silly side and one calm side. They also used watercolors to paint color-diffusing papers, which became the petals for a flower. Jesion said the participants work in a variety of mediums, and other projects in the past have included printmaking and weaving.

Lily Matthews-Needleman, 9, a third-grader at Randall Elementary School, who also attended the February program, said it was hard for her to pick a favorite activity so far this year.

"I can't really pick just one," she said. "I'm always wondering about what we are going to do next."