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Posted on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 6 a.m.

Ypsilanti woman nurtures children's creativity at the Fly Art Center

By Tom Perkins

Ruth Marks believes fostering kids’ creative side is integral to their development, but after nine years of teaching art in public schools, she no longer felt how she was teaching was totally effective.

Thus, she quit her job and focused on a career as a professional sculptor.

But the lifelong Ypsilanti resident’s love for kids led her to reconsider giving up teaching altogether. Through her small Ypsilanti nonprofit studio, Fly Art Center, she's once again nurturing children's creativity.

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Ruth Marks with, from left, Penelope Wright, Clementine Maynard and Amelia Marks, all of whom participate in classes at the Fly Art Center.

“I love working with kids,” she said. “There’s something really exciting about that ‘a-ha’ moment - they have that real pure joy and real pure expression that’s fun to be around.”

Fly Art currently resides in two homes - one at the Ypsilanti Community Center and as an after-school program at Chapelle Elementary through a partnership with Ypsilanti Public Schools.

“The bureaucracy of the schools sort of wore me out, so I moved away from teaching, but I missed the experience of working with the kids,” Marks said. “Now, I can go to public schools and I’m coming in in kind of a sneaky way where I’m not being involved in the structure.”

Classes are offered for children 3 to 10 years old and capped at 15 students. When students come into the class, they get a cafeteria tray, go down a line and pick supplies for projects ranging from painting to kinetic sculpture. Then it’s time to create, and the kids choose what they want to make.

“I had one kid tell me ‘When I came here I thought I was going to have to sit in a desk and do what I what I was told. This is better,’” Marks said. “So I was like ‘OK! It worked!’”

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Lilith works on a marble shoot with help from Olivia at the Fly Art Center.

Marks emphasizes the creative process more than the finished product, which she says keeps the kids more invested in what they’re doing.

Fly Art, a name that is an acronym for “For the Love of Ypsilanti”, offers kids projects that they might not see in a regular art class. The first eight weeks included jewelry, sewing, kinetic sculpture (marble chutes), painting and more. Marks said it is especially important in her partnership with Chapelle, because the kids don’t get to do three-dimensional work in their art classes.

Evan Zalek, 6, of Ypsilanti, took classes at the Ypsilanti Community Center. He made a super hero, mobile and giant marble chute, and said he liked the class because he didn’t have to make the same thing as everyone else.

“He had so much fun,” said his mother, Ann Zalek. “And the projects that Ruth has them doing are so much different than in school.”

The idea to start the center came last April when Marks was trying to figure out what really made her happy in her life. Through a discussion with her sister-in-law, she began to realize that she wanted to get back into teaching.

Originally, the plans were big, and Fly Art was to have its own building, but Marks opted to start out small. With support and guidance from Amy Summerton, who runs 826Michigan in Ann Arbor, she had a board of directors within months and began planning for the fall session.

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Aiden paints at a class during the Fly Art Center's fall session.

“Ruth has a fantastic idea that will help kids, not just in Ypsilanti but throughout Washtenaw County,” said Kayjay Miller, president of Fly Art’s board of directors. “I think in the future we’re going to need people who think creatively to work through problems.”

January and February sessions include architecture, printing and capes and hats. Marks is considering adding a Saturday session. Otherwise new classes will be offered in March and April.

For those who can’t wait until then, Marks has “to go” art kits for sale through her Web site and the Toledo Museum of Art.


Marsha Chamberlin

Mon, Jan 4, 2010 : 9 p.m.

Congratulations to everyone who ventures into this area. It is essential to encourage creativity, and it should start early! The Ann Arbor Art Center is one of several area organizations and individuals working in this arena, and we are glad to see the work expand to another nearby city!


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 11:24 a.m.

As a parent at Chapelle Elementary, and a member of the Parent Advisory Board there, I can attest to the importance of the Fly art after school program to those students. I've dropped by and seen Ruth in action, and her Chapelle students are clearly thriving in the creative environment that she generates which is nurturing, yet encourages artistic independence. With budget cutbacks threatening to cut if not eliminate all "extras", Ruth's program demonstrates how important it is to preserve these programs, and to think "outside the box" when it comes to the arts in schools. I encourage other creative individuals who care about Ypsi to follow her lead and bring their unique talents to our schools, whether or not they have children. All our grand ideas about making Ypsi a better place will never succeed without this key element of community building: the public schools. Three cheers for Ruth!


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 7:43 a.m.

Cheers to Ruth Marks foer this project. Ruth has gone out of the box with her thinking and has been able to accomplish something wonderful for her students with this program. Generally the benfits of arts and music programs have been underestimated by public schools, if not eliminated all together, while athletic programs go on with very little interruption, maybe just pay to play. Less than 1% of high school athletes go on to win scholarships to colleges and universities, and even fewer make athletics a career. The arts benefit all participants for the dhe duration of their lives. Again, my compliments to Ruth marks, what a wonderful and unselfish person. the dog