Reaching out with art

Springfield Art Association partners with District 186

click to enlarge Reaching out with art
Left to right: A’Monnie Butler, Kalennia Brewn, A’Marrie Butler, Christian Walker, Aubree Wartenbe, Gabriella Wilkerson and Christopher Wilkerson Jr., students at McClernand Elementary School, show off their completed projects.

The Springfield Art Association and Springfield School District 186 have entered into a partnership that allows art to flourish for students selected to participate. The program in total involves 52 District 186 students this year, with 16 high school and 10 grade school students participating each semester.

SAA asked art teachers from the three Springfield public high schools for students they would recommend as far as who would "enjoy, grow and love this experience," said SAA education director Erin Svendsen. Eight students in two classes participate weekly, providing their own transportation to SAA.

Typically, the high school students work on mediums not usually available in the classroom, such as clay and pottery, glass projects and fiber arts, stated Svendsen,

"They love it!" said Svendsen. "They want to do extra. They want to do everything we have to offer. It's a great space to bounce ideas off an art teacher, with some going to scholastic competition. Some are using it for college, others are growing and learning. They have some feedback. If they like a medium and want to dive deeper, they'll go that route." Svendsen said one of the activities that created a playful, fun atmosphere last semester was making self-portrait bobble heads out of clay.

click to enlarge Reaching out with art
Camden Levy works on his sculpture.

"The kids have been great," remarked Svendsen. A couple of students are applying to college as art majors, and she says they have come to class early and stayed late to work through their portfolios, with SAA staff helping them photograph their pieces. "It's great to give them access," Svendsen said.

The grade school students all attend McClernand Elementary School's Boys and Girls Club, which provides after-school care. McClernand is across the street from SAA, making transportation a non-issue. SAA asked a supervisor for Boys and Girls Club to pick 10 kids who would most love to participate in art and express themselves, who also had good behavior.

Those 10 children, who are in third through fifth grade, get hands-on art workshops twice weekly, where they focus on art movements through time as well as cultural movements, experiencing art throughout the world.

The students also get a different "make kit" to bring home each week. Make kits were originally prepared in-house by SAA at the start of the pandemic as a way to keep both children and adults interacting with art while in-person classes were not available. These kits contain pictures of the finished art, instructions and all materials needed to complete the kit.

Svendsen credits this partnership to the work of Terrance Jordan, director of school leadership and Family and Community Engagement (FACE) for District 186. Jordan stated the funding for this program comes from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds as part of COVID funding given to school districts.

click to enlarge Reaching out with art
Sara Bonner-Jurgens with her clay creation.

As far as this partnership continuing next year, Jordan said, "As of right now we are not sure if we will be able to fund the program because ESSER expires, but we are exploring other funding options." Svendsen said she hopes grant funding may offer another year of these enrichment classes.

One added benefit to this partnership is inviting neighborhood and community kids into a cultural space. Svendsen says the kids know they can come anytime when the gallery is open to check out the current exhibits. And while "sometimes museums and galleries can be intimidating," these children know that they are welcome to use and enjoy the space.

"A lot of them don't know about us even though we've been here for 107 years," said Svendsen. "We have all these resources. We're not a scary bunch but a friendly neighbor. They can come in and chat with us."

Svendsen added that all school-aged children are welcome to attend classes or camps at the SAA, which provides one free scholarship for a class or camp each year. The application process is simple, and the community is invited to partake in what the Springfield Art Association has to offer.

Carey Smith is a neighbor to both McClernand Elementary School and the Art Association, which lives up to its reputation as the creative heart of our community.

Carey Smith

In addition to freelance writing, Carey Smith also manages the Enos Park Neighborhood Gardens. She's a big fan of trees, prairies, board and card games, her family, and assorted nerd-out topics like soil science, archaeology and systems thinking. She loves living in the Enos Park neighborhood.

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