16 Feb Atelier School of Heart – Article from Birmingham City Lifestyle Magazine
Article by Karen Couf Cohen
Originally published in Birmingham City Lifestyle
Todd Burroughs, owner and founder of the Atelier School of Art in Royal Oak (AtelierSchoolofArt.com), says no one should die with a great idea. And when he speaks about his art school, his chances of that happening drop from slim to none. Burroughs’ great idea has come to fruition as a successful nontraditional art school, influenced by his life experiences and making a profound difference in artists’ lives.
As a child, Burroughs explored his internal universe through art. “Because of illness, I was very isolated, and I used art to express myself,” he says. After dropping out of art school and a soul-searching trip to India, he landed back in the U.S. and connected with former art professors — with new resolve.
He began to prototype the idea of a new kind of art school. Using his experiences as an instructor at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) and the Center for Creative Studies (CCS), he envisioned an artistic community that prioritized student wellness, encouraged risk-taking, offered mentoring, and teaching students something new. Lastly, he would share the stories of these journeys.
The Atelier School of Art opened in January of 2018. It offers long-term one-on-one support not typically found in the academic or community art arena. “Those classes are typically curriculum- and calendar-based, so you can only give your students specific skills in a defined time frame,” Burroughs says.
Instead, courses are set up in the cadence of what it is like to work as an artist and focus on what the student makes and how they make it. “The classes at Atelier are ongoing. We don’t ask our students to re-register,” he says.
Sensitive to the loneliness so often reported by Gen Z, Burroughs cites the Harvard Happiness Study, which says that “embracing community can be the biggest predictor of happiness.” Burroughs describes Atelier School of Art as a supportive community that provides a high-quality experience that nurtures wellness.
With a growing studio, Burroughs bought the space next door in early March of 2020. But with COVID looming, Burroughs paused in-person classes and rebuilt Atelier as an online studio. Currently, the studio operates both digitally and in-person. Burroughs learned surprising lessons through the online class structure, which have helped him enhance all learning. For example, instructors used Zoom to teach measurements and precision, which has been incorporated into in-person classes using iPads.
In 2021, Burroughs brought in Ashley Murawa, a former teacher at the International Academy, to build a youth program and serve as studio manager. The school currently has 13 instructors and offers classes for all ages and abilities — from grade school to older adults. “We help students get ready for college,” Burroughs says. Recently, three of his students were awarded a total of $1.5 million in scholarship money.
Because the studio space can be rented for private events, “Something is happening here every day,” Burroughs says. “It feels like a home.”
In response to the November shooting at Oxford High School, Atelier School of Art will be providing free therapy-based art sessions to any high-school student who would like to attend. The school welcomes donations that will directly support this program. Donated art materials are accepted to support the cause. Call (248) 951-4400 to schedule a drop-off.