In 2010, Adam Rosendahl was 23 and — like so many of his peers fresh out of college — slogging through work at a nonprofit. His job was to lead art workshops for teens who had been kicked out of Seattle’s public schools, but the kids were less than enthused.
“It was really hard to get them excited to make art,” said Rosendahl. “They were just really disengaged.” To encourage them to give it a shot, Rosendahl struck upon an idea. “I started bringing in food, and playing Lil Wayne and Drake in class. It made it more casual; class felt less like class,” he said. But the real key lay in getting the kids to be okay with making art in the first place. “I had them draw for a while and then move to another table, move and leave, over and over.” The kids spent time drawing and then moving on, and eventually became a little more comfortable putting themselves out there.
Soon after, Rosendahl and a friend, Julian Thomas, realized that this was a setting that might have a place outside the classroom. They held an open event in Portland, with roughly forty people creating art together, drinking, and socializing. The event was a success, but the real kicker came after the communal art-making was over. “A 72-year-old woman came up to me and told me that she hadn’t drawn in 40 years — she said she’d forgotten how great it felt,” said Rosendahl. “She told me she was going to buy a set of watercolors the next day. At that point, I realized this might have legitimate value.”
After Rosendahl relocated to Oakland, Late Nite Art was born. Held at a different venue in town each month, the series is structured around broad themes such as “New Beginnings,” “Play,” and “Mission.” On Thursday, February 7, at Creative Growth Art Center (355 24th St., Oakland), the seventh iteration of the event will focus on “Outsiders.”
The night is split into two sessions, coordinated with a three-course vegetarian meal courtesy of Grace Hearth. Wine flows freely, people eat, and then they draw. “A big part of the process is creating a space where people feel really comfortable — the food and the wine and the music do this. People share and participate in a way where they’re really showing up fully and not hiding behind a guise. It’s sort of tricking them into being creative.”
Like the Seattle high-schoolers, participants draw for two minutes before Rosendahl tells them to get up and move on to a new space. And therein lies the bigger point of Late Nite Art: For Rosendahl, the space, the atmosphere, and the activities are all meant to serve as a sort of creative catharsis. It’s playful, but the fun overlies the main thrust, which is to encourage people to shed the inhibitions they lug around all day.
“The point is that everyone is creating one huge art piece together. It’s usually really hard for people to let go of what they’re doing. But when you create and then let go, create and then let go, something special happens.” 7-10:30 p.m., $35. LateNiteArt.com