ArtSlam opens up a world of artistic possibilities for children in downtown Bradenton

With the power of a paint brush, children can rule the world — or at least take over the streets of downtown Bradenton.

Realize Bradenton’s 10th annual ArtSlam hit Old Main Street on Saturday, giving thousands of children the chance to color, sing and create. This year, 25 different booths lined the street, each one providing a unique outlet of expression.

One of the most prominent attractions was a 20-ton mound of sand that Braden River students sculpted into an interactive playground and a detailed sand castle. The display invited children to help shovel sand and build their own art.

Nearby, Olivia Camarena and her 10-year-old daughter, Emily Benitez, took a shot at playing musical instruments with the Manatee Arts Education Council. Braden River High School band director Jeramiah Bowman showed Emily how to hold a violin with her chin and how to pull the bow.

“It was comfortable,” Emily said after playing the violin herself. “I really liked the trumpet, too.”

That’s what ArtSlam is all about, Bowman said, noting that some kids came back to the booth three or four times to give the instruments another try.

“I always love seeing that spark in their eye when they make a sound for the first time and they’re not expecting it to sound so good,” Bowman said. “It’s just cool to be the beginning of their journey, when they may pick up that same instrument five or six years later and remember this moment. That’s the whole point of today.”

Throughout the day, organizers say more than 13,000 people shared similar experiences. Kids watched a performance from Spaghetti The Clown and his one-man circus, families made their own movable koi puppets with R.H. Prine Elementary School and made environment friendly art with students from Lakewood Ranch High School.

The Origami Air Studio’s Origami Bay was a hit with kids, as well as adults. Volunteers provided instructions on how to turn a piece of paper into coral and other marine life to become part of an interactive display.

Sumner Israel and his kids, 7-year-old Zavier and 5-year-old Kaia, watched the demonstration intently before grabbing sheets and starting to fold origami for themselves.

“We’re having fun,” said Sumner, who attended ArtSlam for the first time Saturday. “We’re trying to get every booth because there’s a variety of things for them to get into.”

Megan Howell, with the Origami Air Studio, said she was happy to provide a creative outlet for everyone at the event.

“I feel like a lot of American people think they can’t do origami because they’re not exposed to it,” she said of the Japanese art form. “To have someone show you hands-on makes it less scary to start practicing.”

Visitors may have noticed a spattering of balloon decorations attached to stop signs and bicycle racks along the street. Those additions were the work of Bradenton-raised street artist Balloonski, who began hanging his creations Friday night.

At an event like ArtSlam, getting the crowd to understand that art is what you make of it is key, he said. On top of providing street art, he gave away heart-shaped balloons, balloons tied and folded to resemble different shapes and giant balloons painted to look like Earth.

“The thing about balloons is that people see them and they’re brought back to memories of celebrations, but balloons are so much more than that,” Balloonski said. “I’m trying to reach out not just to kids but also adults to show them that they can be more than that. Balloons can be anything.”

Organizers will begin planning for the next ArtSlam in the summer. For more information, visit www.RealizeBradenton.com.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
Support my work with a digital subscription