Passion projects

Lani Carney’s workshops teach much more than art to Island children.


Lani Carney, known as Miss Lani by her students, is passionate about teaching. “I was a college professor for many years. My whole life has been devoted to teaching people,” Carney said. Currently, Carney teaches group and private art lessons to children at her Vineyard Haven studio. Her background is in child psychology, and in college she minored in art. “After I retired and moved here permanently, I wanted to learn more about the Island and the families here, so I signed up to become a substitute teacher. When the phone rang in the morning, I’d say yes, no matter what town needed a substitute. It was such a great way to learn about the children and the culture here.”

Carney began teaching art to children at Featherstone Center for the Arts. “One summer I met Francine Kelly, who was the director of Featherstone, and she asked if I’d develop a children’s art studio at Featherstone,” Carney said. “For over 16 years, I was the lead teacher, and we developed phenomenal afterschool and summer art programs. I met kids and families from all over the world, and many kids from the Island attended too. It was such a great unity.”

Due to an illness in Carney’s family, she left Featherstone. “I turned my program over to one of my assistants whom I really admired. I was going back and forth off-Island for a while, but I kept art in my heart,” Carney said. Happily, the family member who was ill recovered, and Carney was able to return to teaching. “I started afterschool art programs at Island Children’s School and in my studio at home. I’ve just wanted very much to be a continuum for art. My dedication to children and working with them is very deep.”

Art classes with Miss Lani are offered in winter and early summer. Though she has a syllabus of sorts, she doesn’t have a strict agenda. “I am quiet with the children. I like to give them the freedom to intend. The mother of a girl I work with told me that her daughter came home one day after class and said, ‘I felt loved. I felt like an artist.’ Tears welled up in my eyes,” Carney said. “Children want to feel heard, and feel loved and respected. I always provide good-quality art supplies — nontoxic and art illustrator quality — so the child knows they’re using the same materials as the artist in a book we’re reading about. It means a lot to them.”

In Carney’s classes, the kids start off with sketches. “We pay attention to placement, colors, and shapes. After the kids sketch their original idea, they have a snack, we sing, and share stories. Then they come back to their canvas or paper and create what they decided to paint,” Carney said.

Carney doesn’t just teach children art techniques, however; she also teaches them about famous artists, asks them to think about the impact humans have on the planet, and to care for animals. “This winter term I wanted to celebrate Pablo Picasso. It’s the 60th year of his passing, so our Wednesday class is called ‘Being Pablo,’” Carney said. “The children have loved the stories I’ve shared about Picasso and his beloved dog Lump — how wherever he was painting, he had Lump right beside him. We’ve also played with Lump himself, which leads into our Thursday class, where we focus on animals. We capture their beauty and talk about them. The kids get that animals need our voice to help them. The depictions they paint of the animals flow through their minds and hearts to their hands.”

The Island community has had several opportunities to see the children’s art and to be touched by it, as well. Advanced students make greeting cards of their work, and businesses purchase them. The money from the sales goes into a merit scholarship fund for kids whose families may need some financial assistance for Carney’s classes. There are nine designs and three series of cards that the kids make: Old MacDonald’s Farm Menagerie, Art Is in My Heart, and Endangered Species. The cards are sold in packets of eight.

The businesses who carry the cards include Cronig’s Market, Edgartown Books, Bunch of Grapes, Morris Flowers, and Tending Joy, to name a few. The children have also created art on coffee sleeves and given them out to the community. “One year at Easter we gave coffee sleeves to Mocha Mott’s and Rosewater for the customers to use with the coffee for free — just a little note from the kids and Miss Lani.”

Though teaching can be challenging, it can also be wonderfully rewarding. Teachers get to watch their students learn, grow, and flourish. Once they graduate, however, many teachers are left wondering where their students landed and how they’re faring. And those who are lucky enough to get updates are truly grateful, Miss Lani included.

“I’ve had the privilege of seeing at least 14 young people I taught who are now college graduates or currently in college,” Carney said. “One young man came back to visit me and said, ‘You never asked us to cross out a mistake. You said to just draw a heart on where we thought the mistake was. I will never forget that.’ Art isn’t about perfection. It’s about the process and letting go. We never say we’re done. Instead we say we’re complete for the day. Tomorrow is another day to be creative. This is my life’s work.”

To learn more about classes with Miss Lani, text or call 774-563-3069. Email