Who knew? Kids are loving salad bars turned into 'art bars'

Who knew? Kids are loving salad bars turned into 'art bars'

PORTLAND, Ore. - What could you do with an old salad bar cart?

Well at Art a la Carte, instead of serving up lettuce and vegetables, they're serving up things like crayons and stickers - and kids are loving it.

It's a kind of 'art bar' for kids that opened up in Sellwood earlier this year. The idea is simple - parents stop by with their kids and everyone is free to use what they want from the re-purposed salad bars to create something of their own.

Owner Aria Chittenden said she came up with the idea a few years ago while working with kids at the YMCA.

"One day I was talking to my co-worker and I said 'wouldn't it be cool if there was like salad bars for this stuff (the art supplies).' And then Art a la Carte popped into my head. And I started collecting materials for like two years - just hoarding all the stuff and cool treasures," she said.

Despite the tough economy, Chittenden decided to make her dream a reality. She admits it was hard, but as you can imagine, the smiles on kids' faces make it all worthwhile.

"It makes me really happy when kids are like 'this is the best place ever' or 'I don't want to leave,' " she said. "I hear a lot of kids say they want to come back the next day."

"It's really nice - they can be creative, they can be messy," said Heather Cellini, who was there with her two daughters and son when we stopped by this week. Cellini actually drives all the way from Beaverton to take her kids to Art a la Carte.

"I don't have the luxury of having this much space to devote to art, as much as I love art, so it's really nice to have all of this cool stuff that they can experiment with," Cellini said.

Earlier this year, Art a la Carte was listed as the Best Place to Practice Art in Portland Monthly's Best of the City 2012: Family.

So what have her kids created from the stuff in the art bar?

"They've made sparkly bottles of glitter water and they've done innumerable creations with glitter and glue and paint and all kinds of stuff," Cellini said.

"I like making clothes for my stuffies (stuffed animals)," said 6-year-old Aria Cellini, who was busy making an outfit for her polar bear while her 5-year-old sister worked on a card for their dad and her 2-year-old brother played with a puzzle.

For Chittenden, letting kids create what they want without any type of structure is what Art a la Carte is all about.

"(It's) the ability to create their own project from start to finish, and having a bunch of different mediums for them to work with. It builds their confidence. There are no restrictions," she said. "They're at an age where anything can be beautiful and considered art," she later added.

And the art supplies change with each visit, so there's always something new to try.

"I try to think like a kid and be super creative when I go to find supplies," Chittenden said. She even looks for certain things that her regulars always like. "I've got one who likes Hello Kitty and then there's one that likes war kind of stuff, so I pick up little soldiers," she said.

As far as clientele, Chittenden said most of the families come from outside of Sellwood - and they drive quite a ways to get there.

"Everybody that comes is from Vancouver or North Portland or Beaverton," she said. "I'd say five percent of my customers are from Sellwood."

That's one of the reasons that Chittenden is thinking of moving. She said right now she's looking at a space in North Portland that will not only be better for her bottom line but also perhaps attract new customers.

Chittenden is holding a couple of fundraisers next month to help with the relocation costs. You can find more details on Art a la Carte's Facebook page.

If You Go:

  • Art a la Carte is located at 8535 S.E. 13th Avenue.
  • The hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Open studio is $9 per family for the day (that includes in and out privileges).