Smarts Launches Library with Donated Art Book Collection

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A collection of art books, many of them hard to find, amassed by the late Richard James Hanson of Cortland has become the foundation of an art library at Students Motivated by the Arts.

More than 650 of the instructional books were recently donated to Smarts, the free community art school located in the Ohio One Building, downtown. Most of the books are printed on heavy stock and are unavailable to borrow in the region, according to Becky Keck, president and founder of Smarts.

Hanson, who died last year at age 88, was an engineer at Packard Electric in Warren and an artist.

Though his collection of art books numbered close to 2,000, Smarts accepted a smaller amount. The volumes fill a small room at the school. Many of them include ancillary pages inserted by Hanson, with articles and notes on related topics.

Smarts teachers, staff and students can access the Richard James Hanson Library by using a digital cataloging system created by Michelle Kacir-Constantine, a volunteer.

“She put in over a hundred volunteer hours, cleaning and organizing the books and cataloging them in an online system,” Keck said.

Kacir-Constantine is the mother of a Smarts student and also a librarian.

Keck and the Smarts staff marked the book donation Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting that was attended by Hanson family members.

The event was part of the school’s annual holiday open house, at which Smarts teaching artists and staff demonstrated their talent.

With a focus on underserved students in grades K-12, the nonprofit Smarts offers dozens of free classes in visual art, music, dance, theater and creative writing.

Becky Keck stands in the school’s new library of art books.

Since its inception in 2014, Smarts has raised $4.7 million from donations, grants and sponsors to support its programming, and invested more than $4.2 million of that back into the community, according to its annual report.

The school’s revenue and expenses each grew by 36% in the past fiscal year, which ended June 30. The school has a budget of $960,000 for the 2024 fiscal year.

Smarts has eight full-time staff members at its main location, plus 40 teaching artists that work in schools throughout the Mahoning Valley “to help them rebuild their arts programs,” Keck said.

It offered instruction to more than 6,000 students in the past year, both during and after regular school hours. It is offering 30 classes this semester, including new musical courses in cello and steel drums.

To learn more or to support Smarts, go to

Pictured at top: Becky Keck, president and founder of Smarts.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.