Young Rembrandts teaches children the skills they need to become budding artists
as well as well-rounded people.
By Chris Petersen
Bette Fetter started teaching children’s art classes around her kitchen table as a favor to a friend, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that there were lots of kids out there who were hungry for true art education beyond what they received in school. After developing a curriculum and solidifying her teaching method, Fetter started Young Rembrandts in 1988 to teach art to kids throughout the Chicago area. Thirteen years later, Fetter recognized the true potential for the Young Rembrandts concept to be a positive force for art education, and started to franchise the business. What started out as a group of kids learning art around Fetter’s kitchen table has grown into a successful franchise concept that Fetter says is more important than ever today.
As school districts across the country scale back their art education programs and ramp up their focus on standardized testing, Fetter argues, the chance for children to receive a well-rounded education that teaches them creativity and self-expression becomes smaller. With schools less able to provide the amount of art education children need as part of the core curriculum, they are even more interested in having Young Rembrandts programs after school at their schools. “We want children to have art as an integral part of the school’s core curriculum, and even more art available after school for those students who want more art.”
With franchisees operating in 29 states in the United States and four provinces in Canada, and internationally, Young Rembrandts is spreading its commitment to art education to more and more students every year. Fetter says the passion of the company’s franchisees is what makes Young Rembrandts successful, and she believes the concept will be critical in developing a new generation of artists and well-rounded individuals.
Fetter says that by concentrating on teaching children the fundamentals of drawing, Young Rembrandts fills a substantial void in art education in the United States and elsewhere in the world. “I think we have a very unique and valuable product, the way we teach and what we teach children,” she says. “No one else is doing art the way we are.”
If schools still have art programs today, she says, their primary focus is on giving students exposure to many different types of media and allowing them to explore those in an open-ended format. While this is a very valuable and essential part of art education, Fetter believes learning to draw is foundational to doing art, just as students need to learn the alphabet before they can read and write. When children learn to draw in a structured curriculum, they gain a confidence and abilities that allow them to continue participating in the arts.
Young Rembrandts’ approach teaches children more than art. It helps children develop spatial reasoning and fine motor skills, along with order and sequencing abilities, visualization and other fundamental art skills. “Our original curriculum introduces concrete ideas and techniques that enlarge their visual vocabularies, enrich their imaginations and their minds,” the company says.
“There are very specific techniques that our kids learn so that they have enormous confidence so they will keep drawing and keep participating in art,” Fetter says.
In addition to providing a unique and valuable service, Young Rembrandts also has proven to be a successful franchise concept because of the opportunities it presents to franchisees. Fetter says the concept stands out because of the connections it has to the arts and education, and the fact that it’s a home-based business model, with classes taking place at schools and Community centers, appeals strongly to many people who are looking for something other than a strict 9-to-5 working environment. “We’re very popular with men and women who want a more flexible lifestyle,” she says.
Fetter says Young Rembrandts’ franchisees are a major factor in the company’s overall success because they are business professionals passionate about art and education. What’s more, they are looking for ways to give back to the community and do something that will have a positive influence on the future. “And it turned out Young Rembrandts is a good fit for them,” Fetter says.
The passion and dedication of Young Rembrandts’ franchisees also helps them develop strong partnerships with their local school districts, preschools or community centers. Fetter says Young Rembrandts classes can be a supplement to existing art education programs, which in some areas can be a boon for parents frustrated by the state of art education in their communities. “The majority of school districts across the country welcome after school programs as a way to enhance educational opportunities for their students. It’s a growing market and provides tremendous value to both schools and families. There are times district bureaucracy can block access, but parents want our programs and help make them happen,” Fetter says.
Fetter’s new book, “Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Innovative Thinkers,” emphasizes the value of art in education. She says that as standardized testing has become more prominent in American education, the focus on developing the entire mind of the child has been lost. More than just memorizing facts and figures, a full education needs to include a focus on creativity and self-expression, Fetter says.
As Young Rembrandts continues to grow across the country and internationally, Fetter says, the company remains committed to helping children develop their fullest potential. Young Rembrandts has been building the next generation of artists, one kitchen table at a time.