Art can not only imitate life--it can define it. Options for those looking to become a franchise owner are more diverse than ever, and you don't have to be relegated to investing your money and time with a franchise you truly don't have a passion for. More people who have business skills and also appreciate art and children are viewing children's art franchises not only as an investment in and of themselves, but also in the community and its children.

According to Entrepreneur's Franchise 500, the number of children's-learning franchise units grew 25 percent between 2002 and 2004. In the same period, children's enrichment program units leapt 55 percent.

This interest in children's art franchises is growing from both a need and a want, from both prospective franchisees and parents looking to enrich their children's lives. Something all parties involved recognize is the importance of art and its continued presence in a child's life, despite cuts made in school programs.

Don't underestimate these franchises as just glorified day care with art thrown in, says franchise consultant George Knauff: "They are true valid business models with high potential." Knauff points to Young Rembrandts and Abrakadoodle as examples of franchises attracting the attention of ex-corporate executives, such as a couple he recently worked with. The husband, a high-powered lawyer, and wife, a TV producer, were seeking a way to make a good living and contribute to the community...and decided to buy a children's art franchise.

Art franchises identify a gap that budget cuts in the school system have left wide open: Art education is on the chopping block. Mary Rogers, founder of Abrakadoodle, points to a National Art Education Association study that reveals about 45 percent of public schools are without a full-time visual arts teacher. And for the other 55 percent, teachers are saddled, on average, with a caseload of 550 students. Luckily, just because schools have cut art out of their curriculum, parents are not allowing it to disappear from their children's lives--they're looking to businesses like Abrakadoodle and Young Rembrandts to fill that gap. "[At Young Rembrandts], we feel we have a mission to reclaim the nation for the arts," says Bette Fetter, founder of the franchise.

A curriculum centered on drawing, Young Rembrandts uses a unique step-by-step teaching method. "Art is a right brain activity, and our school systems are pushing left brain stuff," Fetter attests. "We're taking a right brain drawing, and we teach it in a left brain method." Offering classes to preschool and elementary students, Young Rembrandts teaches drawing and cartooning and holds themed drawing camps.

Abrakadoodle offers an art education program that exposes children to an array of materials and mediums. Ranging from painting to 3-D to modeling compound, children are taught to see the art in everyday life. Exposing students to both master and contemporary artists, Abrakadoodle even has a food designer show her work as an example of still life. Abrakadoodle specializes in the early childhood market and has even partnered with Binney and Smith's Crayola to provide art supplies.

In addition to wanting to sign up their kids for these art classes, parents are looking to also sign themselves up as franchisees. Says Fetter, "Parents buying these franchises are a big trend." Fetter makes it clear to these franchisees that the franchise is about more than just art--"it's about having a phenomenal, educational experience for a child."

Abrakadoodle boasts a franchisee roster with a highly educated staff of owners. Each has at least a BA in education, two with MBAs, two with PhDs. Their franchisees consist of men and women who vary in ages, and who may or may not be parents. The thread that connects them, says Rogers, is "they are comfortable in marketing and being in a leadership role."

Young Rembrandts franchisees are predominantly women who have left the corporate world after having kids, Fetter says. "They'd like to work a healthy business that matches up with this time in their life with children and community involvement," she explains. Though some educators are among Young Rembrandts franchisees, a certified elementary teaching degree is not required. "We consider it more important for someone to be a managerial, community-involved, people person," says Fetter.

Art isn't the only activity parents are looking to get their children involved in, it seems, but art education franchises are definitely reaping the benefits of parents who want more well-rounded kids. "The trend has definitely grown," notes Fetter. "Science, gymnastics, art, drama--I've noticed more offerings across the board."

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, when getting back to basics is a welcome respite from our fast-paced digital world. "Kids need an outlet other than video games and computers," says Knauff.

As far as the couple Knauff was helping find a franchise, they have just finished their training at Abrakadoodle. Says Knauff, "They're so excited to play a role in the community, have the quality of life they want, have a great business and do things they couldn't do in a structured work environment."