A messy situation

California Kiwanians help children unleash their inner artists.

Story by Kimiko Martinez • Photos by Helen Arase

It’s the beginning of summer on a warm Saturday in Santa Monica, California. A small swarm of aproned children gathers around a tarp at the far end of the 26th Street Arts Center, standing over letter-size sheets of paper onto which they’re flinging and splattering paint a la Jackson Pollock.

It’s perhaps the most iconic scene at Make a Mess Day, an art event for kids sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Monica.

In what resembles a pop-up carnival of sorts, children of all ages fill the blacktop area surrounded by 30 or so galleries and creative businesses. Tables are filled with beads, markers, glitter, pencils and other props for art projects that range from Mondrian-style block painting to mask-making, papier-mâché and live figure drawing.


They smile up at hovering parents, pleased with their masterpieces and seemingly oblivious to their now-smudged hands, faces and clothing.

“This is exactly why I wanted to do this,” says Phil Brock, gesturing down at a child sitting on dad’s lap with paintbrush in hand. Brock, the club’s president and a Santa Monica arts commissioner, pitched Make a Mess Day to his fellow Kiwanians. “All these kids and parents, they’re engaged. The parents aren’t on their phones. No one feels like they’re on a time limit. And these kids can leave messy.”


As an arts commissioner, Brock believes in fostering both creativity and community. And indeed, more than 500 people filter through the Arts Center during the four-hour event. The complex is filled with laughing, happy children ranging from toddlers to pre-teens, many deeply engrossed in a project. Parents admire the art-making, and some join in at one of 18 project stations.

“This was his first gallery experience,” says Jerry Digby, a photographer/director and Santa Monica resident attending the event with his artist wife and 4-year-old son. “He saw these pieces of art, saw the projects and saw the end game of how it all tied together — what he could potentially do.”

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