When J.C. Barnett III was a kid, he would watch his grandmother doodle on the backs of envelopes and inside phone books. This early artistic influence inspired Barnett’s lifelong pursuit of art. Now, more than two decades later, he’s finding a way to inspire a new generation of kids to explore their own artistic expression.
Barnett was raised in Kokomo and had his art displayed for the first time at the local courthouse. He graduated from IU Kokomo in 2010 and now serves as director of IU Kokomo’s Black Student Center, which is part of the campus’s Multicultural Center.
“I’m heavily invested in the community,” said Barnett. “As an employee of IU Kokomo, I just felt like I could really help make a great connection between the community of Kokomo and the campus.”
Barnett started the Little Artists Program at IU Kokomo in 2021. The program invites elementary and middle school students to the campus to paint their own works of art with guidance from local artists, including Barnett.
“Art is just an amazing connector for people,” said Barnett. “The way food can be a universal language, art can be as well.”
The program’s intention and impact go beyond art, though, said Barnett.
“Inviting them here to paint is a way to get youth on campus who may not have thought about higher education and let them know IU Kokomo is present in their community,” said Barnett. “This is a place where they can come get a college degree. This place is just as much theirs as it is anyone else’s.”
Though the Little Artists Program is relatively new, it grew exponentially from year one to year two.
Barnett said the right funding could help ensure the program’s longevity, help more local kids participate, and even attract artists from around the U.S. to teach the little artists.
“With support, the sky’s the limit for this program,” said Barnett.
If you would like to support opportunities like the Little Artists Program, make a gift to the IU Kokomo Multicultural Center or contact Cathy Clearwaters, IU Kokomo director of development, at 765-455-9410 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the 2023 issue of Imagine magazine.