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About the book
Chapter 1 - Art After School Fills a Need

Too many children are in crisis. Impoverished children disconnected from a nurturing home often learn life from the streets. Drugs, gangs and violence are pervasive forces that steal the innocence of childhood from our children.

Children need to be children. They need safe places to dream, create, experiment, build self-esteem and do things that feed the soul. Schools are asked not only to teach, but also to act as surrogate parents by carrying out tasks that were formerly part of a family's domain.

For a few hours a week, at an after-school art program, children can escape difficult circumstances to participate in exciting opportunities for expression, opportunities that also reinforce academic subjects.

This neighborhood art center model is endorsed by educators who have seen what a tremendous impact involvement in the arts can have on a child's life. Not every child is a success story. However, the arts can reach every child in a positive way.

"We began classes when school cutbacks had all but abolished art programs and after-school activities. The Center filled this gap. We had a small space and limited resources, but we were full of ideas and we had a lot of friends. We used and abused them all. We were forced to be innovative. . We were forced to be creative. We became adept moochers and creative recyclers. As a result, the children interacted with a number of local artist friends and worked in a wide range of media.

We constructed Halloween masks and made Christmas ornaments. We decorated tennis shoes donated by Target. We painted t-shirts---which aided the creative spirit and provided a fun piece of clothing the children could wear to school. We drew on walls and sidewalks and made outdoor spaces. We had art shows that presented our work to the community. We drew ourselves and in the process revealed ourselves. We learned from each other. But best of all, we became friends."

Ellen Checota

The arts-that part of the school curriculum often considered a frill and the first to go when there is a dollar crunch-can be a godsend for children who have limited opportunity for expression and inquiry. Art After School is not just for the good kids; this concept works with startling results for the fringe child, the one who does not get involved, who hates school, the at-risk child. Through participation in the arts in a positive environment young people blossom, grow, comprehend and accept the world. They learn to appreciate the creativity that is distinctly their own. The goal of an afterschool art program is to unlock the creativity in children, giving them new ways to learn and teaching them skills needed to interact and communicate with people. These skills are vital to their ability to function in the world and to adjust to challenges and opportunities in life. Art education encourages initiative, inventiveness and the ability to adapt to constantly changing situations. Art gives us new eyes and ears to make us all more aware of and in touch with each other and our surroundings.

Participation in the arts provides children opportunities that:

Stir imaginations and the creative spirit

Offer a way to release feelings in a positive way

Celebrate individuality.

Focus on the value of creative expression.

Encourage a sense of pleasure in their own creativity.

Build confidence and pride in their creations and themselves.

Foster the unique nature of self expression.

Show the relationship between art and the environment.

Reinforce academic principles through the arts.

Develop awareness and understanding of art in cultural heritage.

Heighten problem-solving skills and techniques.

Introduce a variety of community professionals and artists.
Art fosters creativity by encouraging each child to trust their instincts and vision. They aren't judged—just given positive reinforcement so they experience the freedom of the creative process. This encourages children to:

Enjoy the process and outcome of art experiences.

Think logically and abstractly.

Learn artistic principles.

Communicate ideas, thoughts, feelings and needs in various ways.

Learn strategies to cope with the challenges of daily life.

Set short-and long-term goals.

Become aware of career opportunities.


Art After School can be unique in providing direct creative experiences in the visual, literary and performing arts in a warm and spontaneous environment.

One day when the children were off from school, 10-year-old Christopher, who lived next door to the Center, stopped by to visit several times. Because of the dangers in the neighborhood, his mother restricted him to either their home or the Center. Christopher was at an age targeted by gangs to get new recruits. At the Center, he often volunteered to make photocopies or stuff envelopes for mailings. He began attending the after-school art classes when he was six years old and after four years was familiar with Center operations and friends with all the staff

On one particular day, Chris came to the Center several times to borrow a different item: first a bottle of glue, then paper clips, then a paintbrush. On his fourth trip, he brought a magnificent model made on a piece of cardboard about the size of a card table top. He had taped and glued odd pieces of cardboard together to make a soccer field, day-care center, basketball court, hotel and golf course for a dream city. Everything was created from toothpicks, scraps of paper, bottle caps and other found objects!

When Chris first attended the after-school art classes, he had not displayed any particular artistic tendencies. However, his dream city is a confirmation that encouragement and affirmation release not only the ability to be creative but the joy that comes from creating something for personal pleasure and to share with others.

The Arts Open Windows
Many children such as seven year-old Tony were tentative about their first art experiences. Children like Tony would use only black or dark colors during their first few sessions at the Center. Slowly they begin to feel comfortable using brighter materials. After attending classes for a few weeks, Tony proudly displayed his latest brightly colored work. Over time his face also brightened as he smiled more.

Robert Koeper, Vieau Elementary School principal, frequently brought his seventh grade students to participate in daytime or after-school special events. When asked why he included the seventh grade students more often than the other grades, he commented that after seventh grade the students are lost to the system. They become more interested in the temptations of the street than they are in school. He said that students need to enjoy being in school and find it worth their time, or they drop out. He welcomed every chance to reach seventh graders because this was his last chance to influence them. He hoped these positive experiences would show them that education can be exciting and a way to open doors for them in the future.

"This is only place I go where people are nice to me."

Hands On, Art After School student

After-school art programs offer students a safe haven from negative influences. Students considered at risk or misfits often give up on school and drop out to spend their time on the streets. However, after positive experiences in the arts, they blossom. They take pride in their accomplishments and themselves, making it easier for them to choose to stay in school and take positive rather then negative paths.

When ten-year-old Ulanda first attended after-school art classes, she could not read, nor could she start or finish a project without extensive help. Although quiet, withdrawn and unsure of herself for many reasons (including the fact that she could not read), Ulanda kept coming to class. The first project she worked on was coloring sand to make a layered design in a clear glass bottle. She had great difficulty with this project. After several months she asked the teacher to make sand bottles again. This time Ulanda not only made her sand bottle without help, she taught the other children how to make them!

An after-school art program can have an impact whether finances are meager or abundant, surroundings are opulent or rough, or the setting is rural or urban. The most important aspect is to develop a caring relationship with a child while providing the tools for expression in a carefree environment.

Build Community Through Art
Art After School builds community by encouraging interaction among educators, artists, social service groups, businesses and neighbors. The arts celebrate every child's individuality as well as the cultural diversity and richness of a neighborhood. Few things are as pleasing to a community as seeing their children happily walking down the street carrying their latest artistic creations.

Educators, community groups, churches, artist groups and employers as well as museums, art centers, colleges and universities can use this concept to reach out to children in a variety of settings. The possibilities are endless and the rewards great--not only for the children but for the entire community because through these collaborations, formal and informal networking occurs that brings together people and groups that would otherwise not interact.

Principal Koeper saw what a difference the after-school art program had on his students, especially at-risk children. After seeing the positive reactions of children and artists at the Center, he hired local artists as teacher aides. At-risk children worked with the artists who, through simple art projects, helped the children reinforce academics.