When Chattanooga artist CharlieNewton was a child growing up on the Westside, his parents didn’t have a lot of money to spend on art classes.

“I started drawing when I was 5 years old,” he said. “I always knew I wanted to be an artist.”

His parents found art lessons offered through mail correspondence. He’d draw a picture and then mail it to an artist, who provided lessons and feedback.

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But eventually, he got to a level that required hundreds of dollars to be able to continue, and his family couldn’t afford it.

“It broke my heart,” he said. “I cried when I could no longer receive those courses.”

Newton went on to become a successful artist. He’s been at it for 30 years, after receiving a bachelor of arts degree from UTC and a master of fine arts fromNorfolk State University.

He’s an adjunct professor, and his art has been featured at places such asChattanooga African-American Museum.And he’scompleted several public commissions in the Southeast.

He is also making sure that children on Chattanooga’s Westside don’t go without access to art classes.

“Your socioeconomic status should not determine how you should experience life,” he said.

He’s taught free art classes around town in the past.And now, he’s created an arts and literacy program offered through his nonprofit, calledSPLASH.

His organization’s missionis to create a “safe, professional, art studio environment for young artists, including urban, rural,low-income and disadvantaged at-risk youth, to grow and express themselves through thefine arts.”

“We see them as young artists,” Newton said. “We believe they can do anything, and we are expecting them to create great works of art.”

The classes are being offered at theJames A. Henry School, which is located at 1200 Grove St.

That’s the same school Newton went to as a child. And his father was a custodian there.

Grants, such as a recent one from ArtsBuild, help fund the nonprofit, which Newton heads up as CEO and executive director.

He hands out fliers to people in the area, and children from 4 to 17 can attend weekly classes. They can enroll any time. All art supplies are provided, and Newton also gives out snacks or meals during the classes.

“I didn’t know that so many kids would be interested in taking the classes,” he said. “Just about every child we talk to wants to take art.”

The classes are offered in an area of town near housing projects, such as College Hills Court. The area has about six different gangs, he said. Last summer, it seemed like there was a shooting in the area almost every weekend, he also said.

“We are getting them off the street and showing them an alternative,” he said. “Even though we are teaching them arts, we are also teaching manners and how to speak well-we didn’t know we’d be doing that.”

More than 30 students have showed up the past two Saturdays, and Newton needs more space. For that, he will likely need more money.

“It’s a matter of if we can find funding to help us lease out more space,” he said.

Support funds will be used to expand the number of children SPLASH leaders can teach. With more money, Newton will purchase more art supplies and equipment and provide more meals and transportation for gathering youth, according to the SPLASH website.

Newton is looking for himself in the children he teaches, he said.

“I know there are kids who would benefit,” he said.

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