After school a few days a week, Kiona Millirons flips on the lights in a modest art studio space on Oklahoma City’s Film Row and prepares art supplies and equipment for a handful of local girls. Millirons is the executive director of Oklahoma City Girls Art School, an after-school arts program for at-risk girls in elementary, middle and high school.
Before opening the school, Millirons was working as a teaching artist traveling the state in the name of creative education. She taught in art museums, libraries and even a healing arts program at St. Anthony’s. After visiting a similar school for girls in Tulsa, she couldn’t get the idea out of her head that Oklahoma City needed one, too.
She started a pilot program in the summer of 2015 with 15 students, seven of whom are still part of the program today. The school now serves 27 students who attend two days a week for about two and a half hours each day. They get hands-on visual arts education, get to learn from guest artists and go on field trips to public art destinations to understand the value of art in the community.
“The mission of the girls art school is to learn to be creative,” Millirons said, “but not all of them will be supporters or advocates of the arts for the rest of their lives. It’s more about the relationships, the lessons they learn through art that can serve them in other capacities.”
For example, the girls learn a lot about business through their art shows, where they’re responsible for installing, pricing and selling their own work.
Millirons said the school finds its students through direct partnerships with Oklahoma City Public Schools elementary campuses. The administrative staff picks potential students not based on talent, just based on the students’ need for a positive force in their lives.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never underestimate what kids can do,” she said. “If you give them the opportunity and the freedom, they can do amazing things.”
We sat down with six of the school’s original students to talk to them more about their experiences.
Raquel Hernandez, 14
Favorite art projects: Pottery, photography, printing and realistic art. But especially pottery. At school, I either don’t have an art class or if we do have one I don’t really have time to work on one thing for a very long time. I like getting a lot of time to learn things here.
Favorite thing about the school: The art shows. It feels good when someone buys something that you made.
Pamela Ramirez, 12
Favorite art projects: I never did art before I came here. I started learning different things and realized I really liked working with clay and knitting. I love photography, too.
Favorite thing about the school: I used to be really shy but since I’ve been coming here I have learned to be social. I’m comfortable with the girls and have made
a lot of friends here.
Ariana Sanroman, 15
Favorite art projects: I don’t take art at school but I’ve always loved to color and draw. Now I paint, sketch, do photography, make abstract art. My favorite things are any kind of painting.
Favorite thing about the school: The art shows are fun because it makes you feel really proud that someone would pay for your work and wants to take it home.
Annissa Brestel, 14
Favorite thing about the school: Art classes at school always have a lot of rules but here there aren’t rules, we just get to be creative and that’s fun. Photography and abstract art are my favorites.
Future plans with art: I want to go into psychology but I think photography will always be part of my life now.
Magdalena Escobedo, 13
Favorite thing about the school: Meeting the other artists. It’s cool to learn from different people and art even shows you things about different parts of the world.
Future plans with art: I don’t know that I would ever do art for a living, but I know I want to be a vet and if I go into something like that I will always use art as a way to relax and release my stress.
Jaqueline Fuentes, 14
Favorite thing about the school: Spending time with my friends and drawing. Drawing is definitely my favorite thing we do here.
Future plans with art: I do think I will pursue a career in art later on. I always
liked art but I don’t think I would have actually been able to do it as a career without the school.