Voices of the Bay: Creative Visionary Erin DeThomas

The Bristol educator behind Makers RI inspires young artists in a vibrant studio just for them


Erin DeThomas is the visionary and founder of Makers RI, an art studio for kids that encourages creativity in a large, light-filled space in Warren’s Cutler Mills. A graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, DeThomas received her master’s degree in elementary education from Simmons College. After teaching for a few years, DeThomas and her family relocated to Canada for her husband’s work. When they returned stateside, they settled in Bristol. Not finding many art-making opportunities for her young children in the area, DeThomas decided to fill that gap herself – and so Makers RI was born.

IT STARTS WITH A NAME: We make all sorts of different things. I didn’t want to pigeon hole us into painting or drawing. At the time, I was learning more about makerspaces, which was appealing to me. I started out with small groups in my backyard and in Colt State Park. Last May, we moved from our Child Street studio to Cutler Mills. We have so much space here to spread out, and the classroom setting flows so much better. Kids need movement. I try to encourage movement with our projects. For instance, we’re making snowflakes, so the kids stand and paint these hanging snowflakes.

BEHIND THE ART: Creative experiences are really beneficial for social and emotional development. I have all different kinds of students. Art is a beautiful opportunity for everybody. I focus on process art, which is about the creative process and not worrying so much about the outcome. It is very accessible for pretty much anybody. I rarely provide examples of each project. I feel if students have an example, they think that is what they need to do exactly, and it becomes very difficult. I will give them all the tips and techniques they want, but I let them know they are the artist – they are in control and can do the project how they want to do it.

PICK AND CHOOSE: I offer Mini Makers classes, Little Creators, and Drawing and Painting Class. The Art Explorers is for older kids with a different focus each week, whether collage, clay, or woodworking. My goal is to give the older kids the opportunity to explore and experiment with as many different mediums and supplies as possible so they can start to identify with what they really like to create.

COVID EFFECT: Oh man, there is a need to create! I can feel the energy. The kids were so happy, especially after this long December break, to come back and have an outlet. I individualized all the supplies and sensory bins. I used to have the tables side by side working together, which I loved, but changed that [for social distancing]. They still get collaborative opportunities in different ways. Behind me [pictured] is a collaborative piece. It was a TV cardboard box; I glued recycled materials to it and I set up a game to throw pom poms into the box and then they used different types of paint like squeeze paint. It’s kind of a total mess but beautiful too. Learn more at MakersRI.com


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