Artist and designer Katie Johnson has a thing for monsters.
Not those of the morbid variety, but the cutesy, kid-friendly kind.
She’s always loved the wide-open creative process of dreaming up a new monster and putting it on paper. “It’s a fun creative dump,” she said. “You can make a monster out of anything. So when I was younger, that was my go-to when I felt like drawing.”
Little did she know, monsters would come to dominate her free time as a young adult, too. After college, Johnson started working as a designer with an advertising firm in Austin, Texas. But as a creative at heart, she also wanted to pursue her own projects.
Johnson combined her love of monsters with Jung’s idea of building on children’s creativity to launch The Monster Project.
Through The Monster Project, Johnson invites elementary students to draw their own monsters. Then professional artists bring their monsters to life.
Getting started wasn’t easy because she was the only artist on call. “I did 20 drawings by myself,” Johnson said. “It was way too much.”
She also wasn’t meeting one of her most important objectives: “It was missing multiple artistic perspectives. I wanted the kids to see different ways to be creative.”
So Johnson grew a small army of artists to help students discover their own inner artists and see the potential of their ideas. And though they’re all volunteers, they definitely get something out of it.
“We have to admit, this isn’t just for the kids,” says their website. “What a refreshing opportunity it is to be offered a glimpse into someone else’s head — especially the fantastically bizarre, unobstructed thoughts of a child. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Here’s a sampling from the project’s more than 100 re-created drawings:
The project isn’t just about drawing monsters. It’s about painting a picture of how vital arts are to a good education.
The website explains: “With a decreasing emphasis on arts in schools, many children don’t have the opportunity for creative exploration they deserve. That’s a monstrous trend we would like to destroy.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations notes that when state budget cuts are imposed on public K-12 education, “fine arts programs are often an easy victim,” especially at the elementary level, when exposure to arts can have the greatest impact on students. That seems pretty counterintuitive when you look at the research.
A 2011 report by a committee appointed by President Obama explained that a high-quality arts education can enhance a child’s performance across subject areas, boost their self-confidence and motivate them to take on greater intellectual challenges, and even help them develop other important competencies in problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and teamwork.
Johnson wants to make sure it’s not just the well-funded schools that have access to her program.
That’s why they’re working to make The Monster Project a sustainable organization that won’t be a cost burden to families or schools, which is especially important since they’re targeting schools in lower-income areas that have had to eliminate arts programs to preserve those subjects on standardized tests, like math and science.
In order to fund the project, they’re accepting donations and opening an online store, where they’ll sell prints and the soon-to-come Monster Project children’s activity book. They hope to raise enough money to expand to more schools and launch after-school arts workshops in communities that really need them.
Monsters. Who’d have thought they could be such a force for good?
Watch an introduction The Monster Project: