Founders Michelle Radford (lead instructor), Brannon McAllister (president), and Ian Crook (CFO) combined forces to open a creative and practical art institute for growing artists in Greenville. Will Crooks/Greenville Journal

A new institute in the Village of West Greenville combines art and vocation for a holistic approach to growth for young or aspiring local artists. 

From foundational art classes and portfolio preparation to career tips and hosted discussions, Leaf Institute of Art & Vocation exists as a flexible space for up-and-coming artists.

Co-founder Brannon McAllister, who has years of artistic experience in design, animation, and illustration, says the institute will have seating for about 100 people, a small collapsible stage, and easels. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit art-education pilot program is at 1278 Pendleton St., where Atlas Local Commons serves as the anchor tenant.

“I think our main goal now is to create art-education classes that reach high school level,” McAllister says. “There’s a lot of gifted people who are already super interested in either becoming artists or exploring that [who] may not have the art education access they’d like.”

Currently, Leaf Institute offers basic painting and drawing instruction, with plans to expand to printmaking and other classes. “So what we want to do is have very foundational art training combined with very practical career help to get people started as artists,” McAllister says.

While the art institute has a Christian faith-based perspective on art, Leaf Institute welcomes everyone in the neighborhood from all backgrounds to enroll for classes and register for events. 

“We felt like we’d like to have an organization that talked about the intersection of faith and work,” he says. Discussions such as these would include various professionals coming to speak on business, art, and faith.

Trained educators and professional local artists will instruct the students, and students will have access to the online education platform Pathwright for assignments, class discussions, and supplemental resources. 

The modular course structure allows for students to pay for a single class and reach a specific category of skill. While high-school students are the focus, adults may also enroll.

The classes may be used supplementally in partnership with an accredited secondary or vocational school, or to extend education for working professionals.

Co-founder Michelle Radford, who has been teaching art in higher education for 10 years at Bob Jones University, says the classes are developed to equip students with the necessary skills for artistic and professional growth.

“We really do want to reach students that are really serious about art,” Radford says. “It’s not merely recreational art classes. It should be fun, but we want to reach people that are trying to push themselves in their technique.”

As for the name of the institute, McAllister and Radford named Leaf Institute for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle.” The short story tells of struggling artist Niggle, whose lifework centers on painting one little leaf.

“In the afterlife, he finds out that [the leaf] was actually on a large tree in the middle of a massive forest,” McAllister says. “So, he finds out that this one thing that he was doing that seemed so insignificant was actually part of something much greater.”

For McAllister and Radford, the story serves as a metaphor for their “passion projects” or their “creative callings.”

“It gives a picture of [how] we are really committed to education in the arts, but also we want to have a really fruitful discussion with the community about creativity,” Radford says.

Monthly dinners, rotating gallery shows, and an annual conference will also be hosted by Leaf Institute. Local illustration artist Chris Koelle is the first of several professionals scheduled to hold a show in the space in October.

For more information on upcoming events or to enroll, visit 

The modular space allows for classes, meetings, and special events. Will Crooks/Greenville Journal

August 2, 2018, 11:15 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect an event date change. The Chris Koelle show will now be held in October.

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