SMARTS Air - Artist in Residence

Former Student Is Newest SMARTS Artist in Residence

Elena Merhaut

Elena Labra is a 2019 Youngstown State University graduate, and former SMARTS student. She studied Psychology and Fine Arts with a focus on the ceramic medium. Her passion for crafting handmade pottery grew into the creation of her business, Staircase Ceramics, towards the end of 2019. She travels to sell her pieces year-round at maker markets in Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati as well as on her website at

Introducing Our New SMARTS Air - Eric Alleman

eric alleman

Eric Alleman creates dramatic mixed media art works that unify human interaction and personal portraiture in order to express modern feelings of isolation, tension, and absurdity. Using personal experience, pop culture influences, naturalistic poses of paparazzi photos, discomfort of late night talk show interviews, and the awkwardness of social media posts, Eric captures contemporary scenes of faith, trust, sincerity, farce, spectacle, and tragedy. He has shown his art in galleries in Youngstown, Warren, Columbus, Cleveland and New York City. His works have been included in the Butler Institute of American Art’s Midyear and Area juried shows, and it can be found in many local establishments and homes throughout the Mahoning Valley.

SMARTS First Air - Nils P. Johnson


Nils P. Johnson, Jr. is the inaugural SMARTS Artist in Residence in our new facility. He painted a panoramic Fourth of July fireworks scene in Canfield that took him about 6 months and nearly 400 hours to complete in the SMARTS Artist in Residence Zone at SMARTS. Canfield is Nil’s hometown and where he practices law and he chose this scene because, “I love painting street scenes and what is more fun than the Fourth of July?” SMARTS students and families were able to follow his progress and at times, watch him do live demonstrations and he shared his expertise with several art classes as part of their coursework.

Nils immortalized several Canfield area officials such as former city Mayor William Kay, Councilman Bruce Neff and township Trustee Marie Cartwright, as well as several of his family members. The township hall, dispatch building, the Methodist Church and the Dairy Queen are also featured. “In the mural, I tried to encapsulate and suggest small-town life,” Johnson told those gathered for the November unveiling in Canfield. “I was interested in showing not only the parade but also the spectators interacting around the parade.” Nils has shown his work from Youngstown, to New York City, and throughout the East Coast. You can see his paintings in the permanent collection of the Butler Institute of American Art and he sits on the faculty of the Alliance for the Visual Arts; Lebanon, N.H. He was a great addition to SMARTS offerings for students and we miss his early mornings on the jazz piano!

About SMARTS Air - Artist in Residence

SMARTS Air—SMARTS Artist in Residency is an opportunity provided by Students Motivated by the Arts that enables a guest artist to work in a new environment, often away from the restrictions and pressures of their everyday lives. Artist residencies are about providing the time and space for a guest artist to develop work and creatively explore new ideas.

SMARTS Air is important to our mission because it will help us to connect to new artists while connecting them to the community. We will provide professional development and networking opportunities for both visiting artists and our community, with opportunities to be invigorated through an exchange of ideas and new ways of working. We will cultivate relationships with other artists and exchange opportunities with other arts organizations. We want to encourage experimentation and facilitate exchange across art forms with arts teaching and learning. SMARTS Air allows us to support artists at a particular stage in their careers in visual arts, music, dance, theater, and creative writing.

SMARTS Air studio facilities offers a public place in the SMARTATORIUM that is well lit, easily accessible, and offers conditions that are conducive to creativity. As the needs of all artists and art forms are different, we will determine the workspace prior to the start of the residency. SMARTS is accessible to all and has restrooms, art room sink, and workspace available for the Air. They will be given a key to the facility so that they can come and go as they please, and they also may have set schedules. The Air work area may be moved without notice to accommodate SMARTS events. The SMARTS Air will be encouraged to invite guests to visit us during businesses hours, but may not have guests during non-business hours.

SMARTS - Be a Part of It!