Crafting Memories

Kids go off-line for hands-on fun at the Orange Hippo Arts Studio

By Bonita Mok

Photo contributed by Christa Johnson

Paint, glitter, and an R2-D2 cake
Kids are covered in glue and glitter as they sit around a long table set up at the back of the small room. Their colourful spaceships and airplanes, momentarily forgotten in favour of pizza and an R2-D2 cake, lie scattered on tables decorated with old paint and marker stains. It’s Liam Byrne’s sixth birthday. Rather than celebrating at Chuck E. Cheese’s or an arcade, he’s creating art at the Orange Hippo Arts Studio.

“I think in this age of video games and computer-based entertainment, it’s particularly important to have fun in other non-screen ways,” says Lesley Byrne, Liam’s mother. “Art allows [kids] to think creatively, in ways far beyond more prescriptive toys. I think it’s really healthy for the brain to work on projects that require you to invent solutions with untraditional materials.”

A place to think outside of the box
The Orange Hippo Arts Studio, located at the corner of Broadview and Danforth, opened in September 2008 and has caused a lot of buzz amongst parents in the community. Sogie Sabeta, founder of Orange Hippo, was inspired to open the studio after feeling nostalgic about her own arts-filled childhood. “I remember the workshops, being a kid weaving at the Eaton Centre and making papier mâché masks. I still have my découpage,” recalls Sabeta. “A lot of the funding has been cut for art programming. What I have taken for granted as something that you would do at school is no longer available.”

The studio offers a wide variety of workshops aimed at toddlers to grade school kids, exposing them to art-making materials and challenging them to use their creativity. “As adults in the workforce, there’s a premium put on people who can think outside of the box. Creative thinking will be the most salient characteristic that people can have going forward in their work,” explains Sabeta.

The Orange Hippo offers the community a piece of Sabeta’s own childhood memories, but she stresses that art also increases connectivity between child and parent as they create memories together. “One grandmother remembered painting as a kid, and she wanted to have an activity that her granddaughter would always associate with her, as a fun time she had with grandma,” says Sabeta. “The parents are also like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that [my kid] could do that!’ [Art] is the kind of thing that you can make memories with.”

A call for more arts funding
While the Orange Hippo has opened the door for young artists and creative thinkers on the Danforth, Sabeta would like to see the return of a more comprehensive art program in schools. “I’d love to see more funding for the arts in schools because the reality is this is a private art studio. Not everyone has the ability to pay for these kinds of programs,” says Sabeta. “It would be nice to offer [arts funding] more broadly to schools so that art would be more accessible.”

In the future, the Orange Hippo hopes to offer more art programs to the community and to a larger age range in an effort to get everyone involved in the arts. But for now, Sabeta is content with her small studio. As she shows off the artwork displayed in the studio, Sabeta says, “It’s such a great feeling when you see the kids engaged and interacting, and so proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Visit the Orange Hippo online to learn more about the courses and programs offered.

Photo contributed by Orange Hippo Arts Studio
Photo contributed by Orange Hippo Arts Studio

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