Learning & Public Practice at Linden Rec Center

Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

Mar 09, 2022

Three-quarter profile view of young black boy with glasses as he paints a large, colorful portrait on an easel

Almost exactly one year ago, Columbus Recreation and Parks opened the Linden Community Center, a new resource for the neighborhood and the city. Known as Linden Rec for short, it’s loaded with amenities to serve residents, including a gym, a basketball court, a weight room, and a wellness center, as well as studio space for art and movement. On a recent visit, two of the studio spaces were active with classes taught by artists working with Linden Rec through the Wex’s Learning & Public Practice Department.

“How it got started was actually a conversation with Tala Kanani, one of our Learning & Public Practice resident artists,” as Jean Pitman, Wex youth and family program manager, recalls. “She has a lot of connections in town and she said, ‘I've got a friend who works at Linden Rec and they're looking for people to teach in this brand new facility.’ I’d been sort of sniffing around Linden Rec, just because I have been hearing about these amazing studios from all sorts of people, and so I wanted to go and look at it anyway.”

The space didn’t disappoint. “I was just flabbergasted at how beautiful it is, and how well designed and set up,” Pitman says. And her direct conversations with Linden Rec’s staff confirmed that art teachers were needed there.

“They don’t have teachers to teach in these gorgeous spaces and I'm thinking, we're the Wexner Center for the Arts—we don't have any studios,” Pitman adds. “It's kind of this perfect dovetail. They provide the space and the materials, and we provide and compensate the artists. We provide some of the supplies if we need something particular, but mostly Linden Rec covers that.”

For the past eight Tuesdays, Kanani has been teaching painting classes for children and adults, while Learning & Public Practice fellow and cofounder Reg Zehner, along with longtime Wex Visitor Experience staffer Dorian Ham (also know as DJ Citizen Dorian S), has taught kids the art of DJ’ing. The classes are completely free, and the collaboration aligns perfectly with a focus on programs from Learning & Public Practice that are community-centered and as accessible as possible. Other examples include summer 2021 open studio sessions hosted by Rose Hill Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, and more recently, the 2021 Zoom Family Film Festival, which offered free screenings, snacks, and craft activities.

Students learn DJ'ing in a class at Linden Community Center

DJ'ing class at Linden Community Center; photo: Jean Pitman

Ham says students are taking advantage of a free, easy-to-use resource called Transitions for the introductory DJ’ing class, which has covered topics from the history of the art form to tailoring a set to match the setting.

“Whenever I give them a challenge or task, like breaking down a song into cue points, they take to it like a duck to water,” Ham adds. “It's been pretty fun to see the type of music they gravitate to and how quickly they pick up... everything. And as guinea pigs for learning DJ'ing this way, they were sort of perfect because they innately had the ‘focus on minutiae’ part down. That's the secret sauce of DJ’ing. I think it's something that they'll see they can keep doing as long as they want to, and go further and dig deeper with it. It's always fun to help kickstart the next generation of anything.”

According to Kanani, the painting classes she’s been leading have attracted kids from nine to 13 years old, while the adult class has lured an age range from Gen Z to Baby Boomers. And she’s packed a lot into the program, covering essentials from gesture sketches, figure drawing, and still life to creating depth with shading and highlights, and mixing and working with different types of paint. As with the DJ classes, painting classes are kept fairly small to allow time for one-on-one interaction and guidance, an especially valuable component for young students who've spent so much time recently learning remotely.

“Oh my! I am so proud of all of them,” Kanani says. “Everyone chose what they wanted to create visually this session; the only rules were, they had to use the whole canvas and they had to create a sketch before they began painting.”

“Technique is in our classes but really, the main theme is creating an outlet and a space that feels free and open and approachable,” the artist notes. “And based on what they have created this session, I think we are really creating that vibe in the Linden studio.”

Sharing a quote from an 11 year-old student—'Right now I am painting what I feel'—Kanani adds, “Uh! I could just pack up and be done with my art career forever. What an amazing place to be. I hope to inspire that type of making always.”

"Technique is in our classes but really, the main theme is creating an outlet and a space that feels free and open and approachable. And based on what [students] have created this session, I think we are really creating that vibe in the Linden studio."
Learning & Public Practice resident artist Tala Kanani
Tala Kanani works with a student at Linden Community Center

Tala Kanani works with a young student at Linden Community Center; photo above and at top of page: Rachael Barbash

Pitman and Kanani both note that the classes are so popular, they’re attracting students from as far out of the neighborhood as Gahanna and Canal Winchester. And Pitman confirmed that more classes are coming soon. A new series of painting classes with Kanani and a ceramics class taught by art educator and Linden resident Kayla Gifford both start March 22. The latter is the first-ever ceramics class in which the Wex has participated. Anyone interested in joining the art classes at Linden Rec can find more info and contact info on its website.

The management of Linden Rec is equally excited about how the collaboration is working out so far, according to Pitman. “They are really happy with us being there and what we're doing. You know, the thing about teaching in a rec center, [the teaching style] can't be too tight or too loose—it needs to be right in the middle. And I think we've got a pretty good way of doing that, and we want it to be enjoyable. We're all having a good time and that's kind of unusual these days. It’s just so valuable to be in a communal, community situation and having a good time.”