How gallerists as husband and wife founded a non-profit organization that uses comics (and Dalí) to teach art to underprivileged children

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In 2008, married couple Reed Horth and Kat Barrow-Horth founded Art Dealers Robin Rile Art in Miami and sells works by world-class artists such as Salvador Dalí, Robert Indiana and Joan Miró. After a decade of being based in the city of Miami, the Horths decided they wanted to give back. Both Reed Horth and Kat Barrow-Horth had fond memories of creating art as children, with Reed describing himself as a “comic nerd.” And so the couple decided to start Comic Kids, a non-profit organization that educates at-risk children through comics and cartoons.

The organization, which has grown during Covid, works with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, Girl Scouts Community Troops, HANDY, Branches and other nonprofits supporting at-risk and underserved youth in the community.

We recently caught up with Reed Horth and Kat Barrow-Horth to learn more about Comic Kids.

Visiting Comic Kids Hello Beautiful Mural of Andrea von Bujdoss aka “Queen Andrea” in Wynwood Walls.

At Robin Rile Fine Art they sell works by artists such as Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Banksy. Tell me why you started Comic Kids? Why do you think it is necessary?

We believe it’s important to send the proverbial elevator back down once you reach a certain level of success. So we started Comic Kids because we wanted to help underserved kids in the Miami community by specifically exposing them to art. We have found that the arts are often not prioritized in the same way as other school subjects. As this is a subject we know well and are passionate about, it was a natural fit.

While there are many wonderful arts organizations in Miami that we could have volunteered with, we felt we filled a specific niche: teaching children advanced artistic skills by learning to draw comics and cartoons. Architects, clothing designers, music producers and car designers are creative problem solvers. Children become essential members of society when they are given a platform to explore and develop their creative sides.

What is your experience with comics and cartoons? Do you have nice childhood memories? How have comics influenced your understanding of art?

We are a married couple and both artistic children who preferred sketchbooks and crayons to other toys. We both studied art history and studio art in college before starting our company Robin Rile Fine Art in 2008. Art has always been a fundamental part of our lives.

Reed is a self-proclaimed “comic nerd”. As a young boy, his parents struggled to get him to read and gave him comics to inspire him. He became a voracious comic book reader throughout middle and high school, eventually becoming a writer and illustrator for the University of Florida student newspaper.

While many art dealers have family trees in art, Reed was a military kid who moved to new military bases around the world every few years. He credits his love of reading and illustrating comics as a child for his transition into a career in the visual arts. Reed was a kid on the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, so it seemed natural to start a nonprofit organization to help these kids get excited about art through comics and cartoons, because that’s how he did it.

Comic kids visit Shepard Fairey's mural depicting Tony Goldman, founder of Wynwood Walls.

Comic kids visit Shepard Fairey’s mural depicting Tony Goldman, founder of Wynwood Walls.

What impact has the pandemic had on Comic Kids? How did you involve the students? What role do digital learning and interfaces to Comic Kids play?

Before the pandemic, we had been teaching free art classes by volunteering with nonprofits that were looking for after-school art classes for the kids at their centers.

Ironically, Comic Kids received its official non-profit status just a month before Florida schools closed in March 2020. So, since we’re already creative people with a background in online sales, we naturally transitioned to an online model. Within three months we were teaching kids in Atlanta, Toronto, New York and here in Miami via Zoom.

We hadn’t even considered this type of model before the pandemic, but Covid gave us the opportunity to move seamlessly into it. Because of the success we’ve experienced over the past two years, we’ve decided to keep Comic Kids as a virtual model and to expand our live drawing classes and create new curriculums with various nonprofit partners in Miami and elsewhere.

More recently we have branched out into teaching live classes in schools during the children’s school day. We actively support Title I schools (with economically disadvantaged students), but find that so many children are art-hungry that the lessons are catching on at other schools. If a school classroom is equipped with a smartboard and a webcam, we can teach kids anywhere in the US or the world.

What types of classes have you created so far? What artistic activities have you done with vulnerable youth?

Originally, we strictly taught children to draw cartoon characters: Spider-Man, Batman, Shazam, etc. We showed them short clips of behind-the-scenes animation processes of their favorite films. This concept changed based on children’s interest in cartoons and anime. We’ve drawn every cartoon under the sun with these kids, including characters from their favorite books, movies, TV shows, comics, and graphic novels.

We set up a class called ‘Art History + Cartoons’ where the children learned about important figures and movements in art history and drew their favorite characters in the artist’s style. We combined the surreal landscape of Salvador Dalí with war of stars Characters and drew Sleeping Beauty in the style of Pablo Picasso.

We have also started a course for children aged 5-8 called “Read + Draw” where students are read a book and then the characters are drawn in the illustrator’s style. One initiative we’re also excited about is the field trips we’ve taken our students on, including an outdoor art exhibit called Illuminate Coral Gables, the Van Gogh exhibit, Wynwood Walls, and the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami.

We truly believe in a broad arts curriculum to inspire children. You never know when they’ll suddenly “click”.

How do you fund Comic Kids?

At the moment Comic Kids is completely self-financed. We taught paid classes that were open to the public if they wanted to help fund free classes for underserved children. Our goal is to provide Comic Kids’ service to schools and non-profit organizations without placing a financial burden on them. People’s eyes always light up when they ask us, “How much does it cost?” and we say, “It’s free for you.”

What we really want are partnerships with major contemporary artists to sell their artwork, with profits going to Comic Kids. We already have a well-oiled machinery in place for this within our company, so the transition could be pretty seamless. We want to create more classes, hire more teachers, take children on more field trips, and provide free art supplies to economically disadvantaged youth. Little by little everything helps.

Why do you think art classes are necessary for underserved communities?

We find that underserved communities lack resources and simply do not have the disposable income for art classes. Most public schools in our own community have no art classes until second grade, if any. If children are not exposed to art, how do they learn about it? We’re going to have a generation of kids who learn to take tests but not think creatively. Comic Kids wants to change that.

What are your hopes for the future of Comic Kids? Do you want to expand it?

The world is changed forever after the pandemic. I think we’ve all seen the benefits of remote work. So our goal is to reach as many children as possible with our program. We want to offer free courses to children worldwide and fund them through the sale of contemporary art.

Teaching our first class to 100 first graders at once was insightful and incredible. If a teacher at Comic Kids can teach art to over 1,000 students in a week, imagine our reach if we had 10 or 100 teachers. The possibilities are really limitless.

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