Thursday, November 05, 2009


By Diana L. Chapman

Coloring circles madly, tiny fingers flicked across white pages -- oil pastels happily in hand. “Show me your artist fingers,” the teacher encouraged her students.

The kids, first through fifth graders, proudly shot up their stubby fingertips slathered in blue pastels.

“I guess I was just born an artist,” exclaimed a perky Jennifer, 9, at KiDazzle Art Studio’s after school program.

“That’s what I like to hear,” replied teacher, Michel Solorzano, a woman with extraordinary patience.

Her style caught the eye of May and Mike Schlie when they opened KiDazzle – after many ugly bumps through Los Angeles treacherous bureaucracy; they finally unlocked their doors on North Gaffey Street in January 2008. The couple hired Michel after they saw the fine art major at Seventh Street Elementary School where she still works as a kindergarten aide.

They liked her for the exact reasons I liked her; it embraces their philosophy laced throughout their operations, whether its summer camp, single classes or after school care: kids must have a chance to create without criticism.

Here at KiDazzle, I witnessed kids express their creative souls in a safe haven, but not without structure.

When kids arrive, they start with a snack and juice and do homework or read for one hour. Afterward, they learn art techniques, this time with pastels to build a scene of a giant moon with black building silhouettes.

“It’s so fun,” said bright-eyed, Isabella, 7, who worked furiously and was thrilled with the results. So was I, frankly.

KiDazzle couldn’t come at a better time for parents. Los Angeles Unified stripped away most of its after school programs due to cuts. The Schlies keep prices affordable and currently pick up at three schools: Taper Avenue, Seventh Street and Park Western Avenue elementary schools.

Once, running an art studio was far from their minds. Then, May, who worked as a special education teacher, was severely injured by a student which required several back surgeries.

At that point, May, raised in San Pedro and whose Estrada family dates back three generations – realized she might not go back to work. She also worried that her daughter, Samantha, now six, an only child, had few avenues to make friends. And more, she thought San Pedro did little about art – which had been cut from most schools.

She found herself driving to Torrance, Lomita and Palos Verdes to introduce Samantha to that world.

“It just seemed almost obsolete,” May fumed. “It’s all academics now. This is an extremely important activity, the creativity. Art really helps them with their fine motor skills. Kids need to develop their creative skills. You can’t go wrong with art. It’s their creation. It’s their masterpiece. We provide suggestions, but the kids put it together.”

“See it’s eating,” interrupted 5-year-Elliott to show May his dinosaur mosaic he glued colorful tiles on. “I’m kind of tired of doing this.”

And that’s when the kids play or watch a movie, this time the cartoon Tom and Jerry.

The plans don’t end there for KiDazzle. In a month, they expect to open a pre-kindergarten class and to expand after school activities for older youth. The couples’ energy excites me – especially because it all came about accidentally – and seems to work so well for the 50 plus students currently there.

“The focus is being open to the community and getting ideas about what they want,” May explained.

While last year, they had only about a dozen kids enrolled, they now having a waiting list.

The studio also helped Samantha, who made many friends and scored dozens of party invites.

I’ve been around many schools and other organizations working with kids, but withthe swash of my colorful paintbrush, I give these guys an A plus for their understanding of what kids really need young or old. And that’s freedom to create in peace – without red pen corrections.

KiDazzle location:

1931 N. Gaffey Street Suite 'G'
San Pedro, CA. 90731

Contact Us:
Phone: (310) 832-2777
Fax: (310) 832-2929