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Kid's Art—divergent thought

I am the first to admit I have no idea what art is, but I know it when I see it. To me, art has to be free-spirited and non-political and make my heart hit the floor the first time I see it. If it doesn't make me feel funny and wish I could have created it first, it's not art to me.  

Recently, we caught up with our art friend Kelly Downes, the director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, at their studio gallery in Cape. They were holding a new show featuring Kids Art. Wow, we have talent in these hills. We picked out a few that made my little heart go boom. It's just a taste. You must "Get Out There" if you want the whole biscuit.

Director Kelly Downes — Arts Council of Southeast Missouri

My name is Kelly Downes. I am the mother of a 14-year-old son. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and moved to Cape Girardeau in 2015. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Humanities (Fine Art/History) from Michigan State University and a second Bachelor of Science in Art Education from Southeast Missouri State University. My passions in the visual arts are fiber art, photography, sculpture, and painting. My favorite forms of expression are writing and dance. I love to read, hike, paddleboard, and cook on my days off.

I serve on the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies (MACA) and the Jack Finney Foundation board. The Missouri Art Educators Association awarded me the 2022 "Heart for Art" award. I am a 500-hour RYTur trauma-informed yoga instructor, with additional training through Yoga East Healing Arts and Mindful Schools in Non-Violent Communication, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Meditation, Reiki, and Centering Prayer.

I am very passionate about the cross-section of creativity and consciousness. I am particularly interested in how the Humanities can be utilized to create self-sufficient economies and sustainable prosperity for all living beings. My enthusiasm for all of the arts will translate into community engagement with the visual, literary, performing, culinary, and healing arts.

This exhibition is the only exhibition for local 3rd-8th grade students.
This is our most beloved yearly exhibition and brings light to winter's waning days. 

573: Tell us about the kid's art show:

The Children's Arts Festival is in its 24th year and is a beautiful expression of the accomplishments of teachers and students across the SEMO region. The exhibit typically hosts over 20 teachers, approximately 250 students, and over 1,000 visitors to the gallery each February. This exhibition is the only exhibition for local 3rd-8th grade students. To celebrate the work, the Arts Council works with local sponsors, businesses, and non-profits to curate unique exhibitions with each space so that the children's artwork continues to inspire throughout the year and in various spaces. Each April, we take student work to the Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City for Fine Arts Education Day, an advocacy day highlighting the powerful impact of the arts on the state. Selected works have been chosen to remain in the offices of State Representatives and the offices of Senator Holly Rehder and Senator Jason Bean. This is our most beloved yearly exhibition and brings light to winter's waning days.  

"Fishing With Grandpa by Peggy Campbell—6th grade.
"The Scruffy Puppy" by Charlie Seo—4th grade

573: What makes good art from kids?

Most people think that art is solely subjective, but there are measurable and ineffable qualities that make a work exceptional. When students demonstrate proper use of material, consideration of composition, and creativity, these are all beautiful determinants. Additionally, gauging an age-appropriate application of skills and awareness of the formal elements of art is useful...line, color, shape, texture, space, movement, value, and form. But people are drawn to this quality of unencumbered expression and feeling, especially in the work of younger students. The animals have personalities. The pumpkins and snowmen anthropomorphize. Buildings and still lifes have movement. Faces are slightly surreal. Everyone admires the lack of self-censorship that comes from being overly obsessed with technical perfection—and it reminds us of who we are when we are truly free.

"The Young Ballerina" by Cheloe Newbern—4th grade
"Dreamy Countryside" by Anabelle Allen—7th grade
"Panda King" by Malaysia Patterson-Brown—3rd grade

573: Why do young kids seem to have greater freedom in their artwork? 

Scientists have measured the capacity for what is known as "divergent thought" from the age of 3 through the age of 13. Divergent thought is seeing something without the impression of its social construct—its function or form. This is part of the reason we find children so funny, entertaining, and inspiring. But something about how we educate drives this precious quality out of people. We cease to see the possibilities and are left with a stark way to explain everything away instead of believing in holiness and magic. Freedom is a belief in what is is no fear...and we, as human beings, can only fear what is already known. So, there is something about not thinking that you know everything that makes great art possible.

The Arts Council Gallery is loaded with Kids Art.

...a massive, multi-day eclipse festival centered around culture, co-creation, and cuisine in Cape...

573: What's coming up for the arts council?

We are gearing up for a big April! We will attend Fine Arts Education Day in the Capitol on April 3rd. We are co-collaborators in a massive, multi-day eclipse festival centered around culture, co-creation, and cuisine in Cape called "Everyone Belongs Under the Sun" featuring South Side Farms, May Greene, Riverside Pottery, Ebb and Flow, The Arts Council, Spectrum Record Lounge, and Scout Hall. We are hosting our 4th Annual Afternoon Tealight with Crepe Girardeau, Board and Brush, and the SEMO String Academy. Anyone can learn about all the opportunities to have fun by visiting our website at or our social media pages.

As a sponsor of the 573 Film Festival, Kelly will attend the festival on Sunday, February 18, to award the Kids Film Workshop attendees for the films they created. The films the kids create are always super cool.

Get Out There and hit the 573 Film Film Festival—It's FREE.

Be sure to visit all of our awesome sponsors who make these stories possible!


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