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Love Lab Studio

Artist Christina Bechstein shares joy through creativity and connection

It all started with a crowdfunding campaign, as many small businesses these days do. In 2012, former Maine College of Art and Design professor Christina Bechstein decided to leave her full-time teaching job and devote herself to creating art with children. “I began doing workshops out of my apartment, and then I realized it would be great to have an actual space.” In 2018, she opened a campaign on Indigogo and hosted a launch party complete with local music, a multicultural potluck, and plenty of art making. Love Lab Studio, which uses art as a tool to co-create a better world, will celebrate its fifth birthday this fall.

“I really wanted the studio to be a place of experimentation and joy,” Bechstein explains. “I asked myself, ‘Can love be an art material?’ Like, why not?” she says. Bechstein’s studio hosts after school programs, summer art camps, and workshops for children ranging in age from four to twelve. She also runs a grown up/child group called Smoosh, where younger children (ages zero to three) can play with felt, clay, dough, and natural paints. Community connection is important for the studio; Bechstein partners with local organizations like Mano a Mano, the Portland Lantern Walk, the Portland Museum of Art, and local schools to create and run art-focused programming.

“Our mission is to empower children to see themselves as active creators,” Bechstein tells me. “We’re utilizing creativity to calm ourselves, experience joy, and be more present, but also to ask questions about the world. What’s rewarding for me is that I’m really asking the same questions with the children that I would be if I was teaching college,” she laughs. Take this summer’s first art camp theme: strawberry joy. “We’re digging into strawberries, but we’re also talking about the season, and how do we take care of ourselves in the summer? We’re discussing the joy and complexity of baking a good strawberry muffin or creating a beautiful collage. There are all these creative overlaps that we really lean into,” Bechstein says.

Naturally, the environment and sustainability are integral themes at Love Lab Studio. “If something goes out the door and it gets in the ocean, we don’t want it to hurt anything—that’s our lens for the art that leaves the studio,” Bechstein explains. “Our connection to the ocean in Portland really helps guide this idea. If I was in Detroit or Indiana telling kids we don’t want our projects to end up in the ocean, it wouldn’t have the same effect.” 

Looking around the studio, Bechstein can share stories about nearly every item in sight. “We sourced these big wooden tables from a school that was giving them away,” she recalls. Cleaned out yogurt jars sit atop the table ready for watercolor painting, and strips of colorful scrap fabric in the loom at the studio’s entrance come from local clothing company Suger. “Certain restaurants save things for us—LB Kitchen sent us two boxes of caps, and sometimes a business will tell me they have coffee beans that fell on the ground, do we want them?” Bechstein says. “We try to be really mindful about what we’re using, and energetically, I think, it changes things.”

Moving forward, Bechstein plans to make Love Lab Studio more accessible to a greater audience while continuing to share her positive outlook with the Portland community. “I’m not showing art in galleries and museums—I don’t have that identity anymore—but this brings me so much joy,” she says. “The children come in, and I get to curate these experiences with creativity all around. It’s a really special thing.”

Learn more and sign up for programming at

I asked myself, ‘Can love be an art material?’ Like, why not?