Creativity Goes Digital: At Artech Studios, kids are discovering new methods of self-expression.
by Joanne Jefferson, Our Children Magazine, Winter 2008
Anyone observing a young person at a computer knows how quickly kids learn to navigate, problem-solve and entertain themselves in the digital age. For a generation growing up with personal computers at home and at school, it’s practically second nature. And finding ways of using technology for artistic purposes is an important part of the learning process.
Helping kids get creative with technology is the primary focus of Ronnie Scullion, parent, artist and the owner of Artech Studios. Her business opened in Bridgewater in 2005 and has since expanded to provide satellite programs in Chester and Halifax, offering students hands-on sessions in a variety of technology-based activities. Success relies on Scullion’s art-college education, her training in information technology and her experience as a facilitator of arts-related activities for young people.
Week-long day camp programs in the summer and one-day mini-camps during March break form the core of Artech’s programs. The mini-camps have a different theme for each day, while the summer sessions follow a concentrated focus for five days. In the March break programs, participants create storyboards for their own short films, create clay characters and sets and learn how to turn a series of still photographs into fully animated stories. They also explore the concept of artificial intelligence by building robots, programming them to respond to commands, then making animated films using their robot characters. Other programs include T-shirt design and creation, video game workshops and sessions on Flash animation software.
Although Bridgewater remains the permanent home of Artech Studios, Scullion is establishing a relationship with the Dartmouth Sportsplex for her pro-grams. “We have a lovely space at the Sportsplex,” she says. “There is a large room where we set up all the computers, plus a 60-foot lounge and a patio exclusive to our group. It’s a nice, self-contained area.”
Diverting attention away from the screens is not always easy, though. “Sometimes we find a little reluctance, particularly from the hard-core garners, to come off the computer,” Scullion says. “We try to get them drawing or conceptualizing their game strategies off the computer. Hands-on art activities go along with almost all of our programs.”
Accessibility is important to Scullion and she’s keen to explore avenues that make it easy for kids to participate. “Anytime there’s an interest on the part of the child, we will look for a way to accommodate them,” she says. As part of that commitment, Artech Studios is working with HRM to provide scholarships for the summer programs.
The kids who participate in Artech’s programs are, as Scullion describes them, “highly motivated, bright, and enthusiastic.” She’s seen the same kind of enthusiasm in the sessions she offers in school classrooms; however, she’s aware that not every student has the same access to technology. That’s one of her motivations for continuing to offer school-based programs. “Going into schools allows us to reach a more diverse audience and we can get kids who maybe never thought of themselves as using technology or computers for anything,” she explains.
Scullion has a vivid memory of a school program she ran just after completing her diploma in applied information technology. She’d been hired by a brand-new school in Halifax—with lots of brand-new computers—to help students create their own Flash animations. “When I arrived, none of the computers had been loaded with the software and I couldn’t access the system so we had to call a technician,” she recalls. “I had to pass the time with 18 junior high school boys.” She somehow made it through those awkward first moments and once she had tools to work with, the scene quickly changed. “As soon as I gave them new stuff to try they were captivated. In subsequent weeks, some of them would see me drive into the parking lot and they would come in early from their lunch hour to get going.”
While school-based programs are an effective way to introduce students to the creative potential of technology, the programs at Artech Studios are more tightly focused. “We definitely try to distinguish ourselves from a school atmosphere,” Scullion explains. “There’s a lot of learning involved but it’s specialized learning. Kids are usually there because they want to be. They do go away with a lot of knowledge and new capabilities.”
When Scullion describes her programs as hands-on, she really means it. Kids are involved in every aspect of the processes they explore. “We give them the tools, the instruction and the opportunities and it’s there for them to make what they want,” she says. Participants come away with not only a new set of skills related to the particular technology they’re learning but also a broader set of assets like teamwork, self-expression, design concepts and confidence.
Grade 6 student Sage McConnell attended Artech sessions in Bridgewater and his favourite activity was making video games. “All this stuff I could do at home but I’d rather not because working with everybody else at Artech is so much fun,” he says. “Ronnie always takes a lot of time to explain things to us. She does it with us while we’re doing it and she lets us do variations on everything she’s talked about.”
Scullion plans on growing Artech Studios even further. “In five years, I’m hoping to expand outside Nova Scotia, bringing programs to other communities,” she says. In the meantime, she’s leading the effort to establish Expressions, a new media festival for youth, in partnership with Empire Studio 7 in Bridgewater. Surf to Artech Studios’ website at for upcoming programs and examples of participants’ creations.