Sarah Matthews, a former Disney cast member, joined the Kids Create Art team last year to help bring unique artistic experiences to local children.
When Sarah Matthews found herself among the thousands of furloughed or laid-off Disney cast members last year, she discovered a new way to turn her passion for art into purpose.
The Winter Garden resident spent 15 years as a senior graphic designer for Walt Disney Imagineering prior to being furloughed in April 2020. In October, she got the call that her role was being eliminated.
“A lot of really talented and good people were gone,” she said. “It was hard for me because … I didn’t know when I left that I wasn’t going back.”
Matthews, who holds an art degree from the University of Wisconsin — Madison, always has loved art and tapping into her creative side. She discovered that passion at an early age, and it is a driving factor behind her decision to join the art-education team at Kids Create Art.
Kids Create Art was founded more than a decade ago by Beth Elliston, a former art teacher at Bay Lake Elementary who now teaches at Florida Virtual School.
Elliston, a Horizon West resident, was Teacher of the Year at Sand Lake Elementary in 2015 and also received the Kessler Grand Bohemian Teacher of Excellence Scholarship award for excellence in teaching fine arts.
Elliston launched Kids Create Art with the belief that a child’s creativity and imagination are two of their most precious gifts. Her goal is to provide an artistic experience that allows students to grow in a safe and nurturing environment that promotes artistic freedom. That’s what Matthews loves about Kids Create Art.
“The basis behind it is that we want to encourage a lot of creativity with kids, and we want every child to know that they are an artist without feeling like they have to conform to something being right or wrong,” Matthews said. “With the way we teach art, we learn about different artists, and we show different techniques and how to do certain things. We work on a project that’s inspired by an artist, but then the kids are free to really take that, run with it and create their own masterpiece.”
Matthews began teaching art classes with Kids Create Art during her furlough period. Her daughter had taken art classes with the company in the past, and Elliston was looking to add a teacher.
Matthews helps coordinate the homeschool art program and will visit homeschool pods and small groups to teach lessons in person. She also does virtual art classes on a regular basis. It’s become both a creative outlet and full-time focus for her as she helps Elliston grow the business.
“It’s been really fun teaching the classes and cultivating creativity within kids,” Matthews said. “Even in a virtual setting, I think our classes have worked really well because kids get to do it from the privacy of their own home, and they have all the supplies right there.”
During virtual art lessons via Zoom, Matthews has her camera set up above her workspace or her hands to allow them to clearly see what she is demonstrating.
Although lessons sometimes are inspired by certain artists or techniques, children are encouraged to take charge of their creative initiatives. They learn about things such as color theory and color mixing, shading and how to work with different art media. Then, they are allowed creative freedom.
“When they’re boxed in, that’s really where kids start to feel like they’re not good at art, and we don’t want them to be boxed in,” Matthews said. “We’re sort of opening their eyes to hopefully finding a new love of something that they didn’t even know they were good at. There is no right or wrong, so every child that comes to us is an artist, and we really want to nurture and cultivate their creativity.”