When Shannon Merenstein was pregnant with her first child in 2015, she began searching for family-friendly activities in the Steel City. With a degree in art education and painting from Pratt Institute — and eight years of experience teaching elementary art at the Environmental Charter School — Merenstein was dismayed to find no spaces in Pittsburgh that “focused on art-making for preschoolers and toddlers,” she recalled.
So, the Community Day School alumna and Pittsburgh Allderdice grad hatched her own plan.
In 2016, on the first birthday of her son, Graham, Merenstein opened the doors to Hatch, a creative arts studio in Point Breeze that aims to rouse imagination, spark curiosity, develop artistic skills and inspire confidence in children.
It’s a place for children to untether their creativity, trying out new materials and methods, while leaving parents free from the hassles associated with that process.
“My vision was to create a space where families could feel comfortable letting their kids get messy and explore arts materials,” said Merenstein. “I think a lot of parents care about promoting creativity, but it’s hard to set it up in your own house, and then deal with the mess afterwards.”
At Hatch, she said, children can become “confident creators” because they are free to explore their imagination without anyone prescribing strict rules regarding method.
“It’s unusual to have children lead the way in their art-making,” Merenstein explained. “Kids and families are used to being told there is a right way to approach art-making. That’s why some adults are so afraid of being not ‘good’ at art.”
Hatch offers about 15 classes each week for children age 18 months through middle school, and also provides open studio time on Fridays and Saturdays. Ceramics, painting, printmaking, working with recycled materials, sculpture and collage are a sampling of the types of art offerings at the studio.
Although hosting birthday parties was not in Merenstein’s original business plan, she was “inundated with calls about parties” as soon as Hatch opened. Now, the studio has become a popular party destination, having organized more than 250 so far. At Hatch, there are four to six birthday parties each weekend, for ages 2 and up.
“We have tons of party options,” Merenstein said, including the crowd-pleasing Rainbow and Unicorn Party. “Our mission, to create a joyful and imaginary space, carries over to our parties,” she added.
Innovative camps are run at Hatch during the summer. One favorite is the Doll House Camp, at which campers are given a wooden doll house to furnish — by printing their own wallpaper, weaving their own rugs and making their own furniture. Merenstein has a solid online presence, she noted, and her idea for Doll House Camp has since been picked up by other children’s art studios around the country.
Although located in Point Breeze, several families from Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon cross the bridges and go through tunnels to get their kids to Hatch. Merenstein has considered opening satellite studios in other locations throughout Greater Pittsburgh, but for now her “goal is to establish ourselves as the place to be to make art with your children.”
Merenstein teaches some classes herself at Hatch, and also has a staff of six part-time instructors.
The studio offers lots of special events, including a Dec. 2 Chanukah Party and Menorah Making workshop for ages 3 and up. Children will fashion their own menorahs using wood, glass bottles and other materials.
Merenstein is the author of the recently released book “Collage Workshop for Kids” (Quarto, 2018), which she wrote, she said “to inspire families to create at home.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.