Smile Politely

Local arts classes guaranteed to scratch your back-to-school itch

Living in a college town like Chambana, we seem to absorb the academic calendar by sheer osmosis. The ebb and flow of graduates and freshmen, the fresh paint at Krannert Art Museum as installers make the final preparations for fall exhibitions, books and course packets ordered and arrived. The overwhelming optimism of minds and hearts opening to new ideas and new passions. It gets me every time. Add to this all those rose-colored memories of Septembers past, the smell of newly sharpened pencils and the almost blinding whiteness of blank notebooks and sketchpads waiting to be filled.

Back-to-school season hits us where it counts — the parts of us that crave new beginnings, chances to grow and change, and find new sources of joy. Whether you are formally trained or self-taught, whether your passion is music, dance, writing, or visual art, our town offers a wide range of continuing education opportunities in the arts. From the low-cost/short-term commitment to the dive-in-deep options, Champaign-Urbana has what you need to scratch your back-to-school itch. There’s no better time to explore that “someday” dream of taking up a new instrument or adding a new technique to your art-making.  

Herewith you’ll find a broad range of suggestions. Take a look. See what inspires you. Go small or go big. Just do it.  

Starting small 

One-off classes and workshops are a great way to start. Fees are usually reasonable, as are time commitments and materials. If you find something you love, great. Now you’re ready for a deeper commitment. If it’s not the best fit for you, you haven’t lost much. Besides, you learned something, got out of the house and met some new people. Move on to the next adventure. 


This type of class or workshop is best suited to visual arts techiques and dance workshops. Hopscotch offers a variety of painting, calligraphy, and crafting workshops in a lovely setting, plus there’s cake. Urbana Dance Company also invites you to drop in for a single class in any style. Take a trip out to Lisa Kesler’s printmaking studio in Tolono for an afternoon workshop. I did and the lino block skills I learned there opened up new possibilities in my work. Plus it was really fun. Rumor has it that Art Coop will soon be offering a variety of short-term art classes. Stay tuned for more information here

Short-term multi-day classes

If you know you’re ready to offer up more of your time to inner artist, these are a great way to go. The instructors you meet are often working local artists who are full of great tips on everything from the best way to care for your brushes to editing your prose. Find a time and day when your energy is high so you can give it your best. 


Parkland College’s community education program offers loads of options in visual arts, creative writing, and music. These classes are taught by local arts, many of whom you’ll recognize from our arts section. You can also find great classes at the Champaign Park District, particularly in drawing, painting, and pottery. If clay’s your thing, don’t miss the chance to work with illustrator and ceramic artist Liza Wynette. She’s one of those rare people who is as strong in the classroom as she is in the studio. You won’t be sorry. Who knows what will happen. Your work may end up in a future show at the Springer Arts Centrer. 

CPD is also a great place to return to the dance floor as an adult. They offer a wide range of styles and the approach is serious about learning and about having fun. Prices at both locations are reasonable. If you live within the park district’s area, you can enjoy the resident discount. 

Diving deeper

Some art forms require more time and commitment if you’re returning after a break or buildingon past experience. Diving deeper can be scary, and challenging, but its also transformational.  You’ll dig deep and you’ll be better for it.

Urbana’s Community Center for the Arts (C4A) offers private and small group lessons in a wide range of instruments including violin, viola, cello, bass, guitar, ukele, and more. The best way to learn to play and love playing music is from people who live it. And that’s what will happen here.

Private ballet lessons for adults are available at the Urbana Fine Arts Center. If you’re really ready to commit to your toe shoes, this is the place. 

Stay in your jammies and learn online with

Online learning is a great fit if your schedule doesn’t permit traditional class schedules. And Lynda does it better than many. While you may think of this learning portal as a job-skills building site, it also contains a universe of arts content staring some of the best makers and presenters around. Granted, you’ll miss many of the perks of IRL learning (community, dedicates space and tools, opportunities for mentorship), but I have found great courses here that are informative and inspiring. 

There are several ways to get your Lynda acess for free: through the Champaign Library, through your Linked In membership, or for some, through your workplace. It’s definitely work checking out. There are a lot of great options for creative writers here. Writers as group tend to work solo and even the streamed presence of a helpful and inspiring presenter can help get you out out a slump.

Dip into a short or long-commitment class, try it out, and move on if it doesn’t suit your goals. The important thing is to just see what’s out there. Stay curious. That’s the biggest part of any artist’s journey. 

Top photo from the current Champaign Park District online brochure, second image from Hopscotch’s Facebook page, and third image from Parkland’s current community education online brochure. 

Arts Editor

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