New arts center stimulates parent-child creativity

Saturday, September 25, 2010 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 6:52 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 3, 2010
Gram Gerdeman, 6, paints a picture of the ocean at the WACKY Center on Saturday. The WACKY Center, which stands for "Walk In Activity Center 4 Kids ... Yippee!," opened Sept. 18.

COLUMBIA — A plastic cookie jar. Four toilet paper rolls. Papier-mache with a splash of color. From these everyday items, Taurus the bull was born in the name of hands-on creativity.

Taurus is just one of many creations crafted at the WACKY Center, which stands for "Walk-in Activity Center 4 Kids … Yippee!" The center opened Sept. 18 after four years of planning and seven months of renovating a run-down church building on Hickman Avenue and Sixth Street.

Want to go?

Walk-in Activity Center 4 Kids ... Yippee! (WACKY Center)

515 Hickman Ave.


10 a.m. to noon, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday

$7.50 entrance fee, no registration required

For more information, go to WACKY Center's Facebook page.

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Erica Leach’s dream for the center and for the children who visit reflects a poster hanging in a project room: “It’s better to try and fail than to never try at all.”

The building now has a bright blue exterior and a sensory overload of colors on the polka-dotted interior walls. Smiley faces adorn each dot and posters with motivational quotes are scattered across the project room walls.

Leach, 32, a former preschool teacher, envisions the center as a place for parents to sit down with their children and make crafts without too much structure.

Leach features a few crafts each week, but children have free rein to be inspired and create. Stocked with felt banners, carpet squares, beads and egg cartons as well as other craft materials, most of the supplies are donated or recycled.

In its first week of business, Leach said, the focus at WACKY Center was about getting into the “teacher, artsy-craft mode."

During an ice cream social Saturday, children went freely from one project to another, with Leach’s helping hand. During the two hours, children made doormats for rooms, necklaces for moms and even a shirt for a cat.

But Taurus, who was created for the center's grand opening, was the first display of what can be done with a little bit of imagination.

Leach's husband, Chris, is beginning to catch the vision.

“Chris isn’t the artsy type and doesn’t get to see my creative side as much,” Leach said, referring to her husband. “But when he saw the cow, he started seeing how different things could be turned into something else.”

The dreaming, planning and renovations involved in opening the center have also been a good parenting tool, Leach said, allowing her to see from the perspective of her sons, Chris, 12, and Devon, 10.

“What we’ve done with this building is what I want WACKY to be: hands-on creativity,” she said.

Leach did not receive any grants and did not take out any loans for the center. WACKY, she said, is a product of four years of saving money.

“If you’re going to go into business, you got to jump in with faith and be smart about it, too,” Leach said.

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