Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 26, 2013

C is for Craft opens in downtown Palo Alto

Preschoolers get their own drop-in space to be creative

by Elena Kadvany

Rita Whitney, a mother of one very active 2-and-a-half-year-old girl, always carries paper, crayons and other art supplies with her.

"We can be on a 15-hour plane ride, we can be in a hotel, we can be in a meeting, we can be at a fencing tournament," Whitney said. "She always has stuff to do."

The only place Whitney's pre-school-aged daughter, Taylor, didn't have the same wealth of activities was in her hometown of Palo Alto.

"In Palo Alto, we pride ourselves on our kids and education, but there's not a whole lot, except for the preschool system, for preschoolers," Whitney said.

And for busy parents like Whitney and active young children like Taylor, activities at two-day preschool programs might not cut it.

Angela Filo, Whitney's neighbor and mother of two young girls, agreed.

"My older daughter goes to preschool, but there are a lot of hours in the day with little ones," she said with a laugh.

Whitney tried to fill those hours by hosting informal arts-and-crafts gatherings with other children at her home, but it became overwhelming to maintain on her own.

So Whitney, who retired from a job at VMWare a few years ago, took portable art kits and home art projects to the next level. She created C is for Craft, a craft studio located in downtown Palo Alto dedicated to filling the city's void when it comes to arts-and-crafts activities for preschoolers.

When she came up with the idea for C is for Craft, Whitney teamed up with Nia Taylor, a Gunn High School graduate who went to New York University to study arts management and is now the studio's education director and manager. The two met a few years ago at the downtown Palo Alto store LiveGreene, where Taylor was selling tea from her tea company, Nia's Tea With A Purpose.

Taylor and Whitney started looking for spaces to rent in November and signed a lease for the Bryant Street studio on Feb. 1. They opened for business on April 8.

C is for Craft, named while practicing the alphabet with Whitney's daughter, is all about creativity, community and freedom — for both kids and their parents.

For $20 a pop, parents or caregivers can drop in to the downtown Palo Alto studio, unscheduled or scheduled, and have access to a wealth of arts-and-crafts supplies — that they might not have at home — to do projects with their children for an hour. C is for Craft is not a "drop-off" care center but instead a place where parents and caregivers can go to spend time with their children doing structured arts activities.

Kristy DeRemer, a Palo Alto mother of two and patron of C is for Craft, explained the advantages.

"There's not much for us to do unless we want to commit to a class for six or eight weeks. There was no day-to-day basis, fun, drop-in kind of thing," she said. "It's a really nice option to have."

A wall running the length of the studio has been transformed into "fun stations," or preschool-appropriate art canvasses: one section covered in felt with animals and shapes that can be stuck and unstuck at will, one a magnet board with magnetic letters and shapes, one a chalkboard and one a whiteboard. At the back of the space is a LEGO station, where kids can build at will, and a reading nook with books and comfortable, miniature chairs.

On the left side of the studio are various sized chairs and tables — one that can be adjusted to fit a high school-sized boy or girl, promising future expansion — strewn with drawings, watercolors and other art projects.

"Nothing's set in stone," she added, commenting that they can adapt to what certain kids want to do, which she said is more flexible and allows for more creativity than a structured class schedule.

What parents won't find at C is for Craft is any sort of technology — no children staring enraptured at an iPad or iPhone.

"We're a very tech-focused community, so it's also important for families and young children to know that they can be creative and that they should be creative," Taylor said.

Taylor said they are also open to expanding beyond preschool-aged children but want to remain committed to their original mission as a resource for preschoolers.

Though Whitney is fond of saying "our customer is the child," C is for Craft is, at the end of a day, a business.

Beyond the $20 per hour fee, Whitney and Taylor also sell pre-packaged craft kits (lion and monkey masks, stained "glass" paper kites, tissue paper tulips) for $5 as well as a selection of Taylor's loose-leaf teas. They also rent out the space at night and on weekends to adult arts-and-crafts groups, such as stitching clubs. Whitney refers to the adult side of C is for Craft as "Studio 540" (the building's address is 540 Bryant St.).

DeRemer said the concept of "paying to play" is "an option of privilege."

"Unfortunately it's something that only if you can afford it, you can do, so that's limiting."

Filo said that though "pay to play" programs aren't for everyone, Palo Alto is a community where one could thrive.

"If there's a chance for something like this to work, it probably is in this area where there are families who might want to try it that way," she said.

Whitney said that many friends have asked her what she'll do if the business fails.

"If nothing else, it's a great space for Taylor and her buddies to play for two years," she said, joking.

"But I'm committed to this project. I'm committed to it forever."

Editorial Assistant Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

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