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Andrew Peterson

Teaching artist Andrew Peterson knows creativity often erupts from clutter and chaos. The first assignment in his robotic arts workshop for middle school students: dissect cast-off Tickle Me Elmo toys and pick through the parts to make small jittering robots. It wasn't long before the giddiness gave way to focus.

Peterson is the creator and lead instructor of South Shore Robotic Arts, an afterschool program for middle school students at South Shore K-8 in Rainer Beach. The program encourages youth to create fun and imaginative works of robotic art through experimentation, creative play and basic electrical engineering skills.

"These young artists use their imaginations and problem-solving skills to dismantle old toys and harvest the usable parts to create moving monstrosities, cute battle bots and drawing machines. The colorful, leftover debris is used for structure, decoration, armor or comedic effect," said Peterson, a working artist and adjunct professor of drawing and painting at Seattle Pacific University.

The four-month program engaged nearly two dozen youth, with the more advanced or returning students serving as mentors to new participants. A public exhibition of the students' creations closed the class.

"This program is an awesome, cool, amazing, fun program that lets kids get in touch with their creative side and their technical side," said program participant Elvis Lang, a 7th grader.

South Shore Robotic Arts received funding from the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs' Youth Arts program, which invests in arts training and education beyond the regular school day and prioritizes youth or communities with limited or no access to the arts. Youth Arts awarded nearly $200,000 to 30 artists, cultural organizations and community agencies for projects involving middle and high school students between September 2010 and September 2011. The projects engaged 341 teaching artists who offered 24,000 hours of arts training to 5,000 young people in neighborhoods throughout the city.