As you may remember from the previous post on our latest exhibition, Agora Gallery‘s current display of artwork is proud to include a piece by Art Start student Jamai. This seemed like a good opportunity to explain a little more about what Art Start is and what it does, so that you can appreciate just why Agora Gallery is so pleased to be supporting its valuable community work.
Art Start has been running since 1991, when a small group of artists in New York City got together and began preparing and holding regularly scheduled art sessions specifically targeted at at-risk young people around the city. The idea was to get the children and teenagers involved in something that was totally different to their everyday lives, and introduce them to art in a way that they would never otherwise experience.
The experiment was as successful as anyone could have imagined; soon, children ran to greet the volunteers as soon as the shout ‘Art Start are here’ rang out, beaming and competing to be able to help the adult in charge. Since then, a variety of programs have been set up to complement the original project, across a range of media, including The Hip Hop Project, which was the subject of an award-winning documentary, to engage more children and teens, and give them greater flexibility in finding the art that best suits them. Field trips relevant to particular projects are arranged, and the young people have the opportunity to share their work with a wider audience through exhibitions, performances and publications.
Art Start provides children and teenagers from severely disadvantaged backgrounds with the chance to develop skills that otherwise might remain forever out of reach. For one thing, the program is beneficial for their self-confidence, because they learn to express themselves in new and different ways. They also develop their creativity and experiment with their imagination and the results it can bring, as well as working on more conventional ‘school skills’ along the way – for example, if a group have come up with a project, they need to work out a budget and a proposal for it, which involves using mathematics and English language skills in order to accomplish something about which they are excited and which they believe to be worthwhile. Art Start also represents a level of stability in what is to these young people a constantly changing world – something that is reflected in the eagerness and dedication that they bring to their projects.
One of the truly remarkable things about Art Start is that it is run by volunteers, such as Jamai’s mentor, the painter VanĂ© Russo. Volunteering at the program is a demanding role, both in terms of time – volunteers are expected to come to weekly sessions, with no more than two unplanned absences, during the time frame for which they sign up (the year is divided into three semesters at Art Start) – and in terms of energy. However the experience can be an intensely rewarding one, because of the knowledge that the work of the program really provides a unique opportunity for many of those whose lives it touches, one that can potentially change the course of their lives. For the volunteers, it opens up a window into a different, difficult world that many of us are most of the time unaware even exists. In addition, the age of those that Art Start benefits means that they are sometimes more open-minded than their adult advisers, able to think of creative and innovative ways of using their materials or skills which a more highly trained individual would be unlikely to consider. Volunteers are sometimes amazed by what they can learn from the young people, as well as what they can teach.
Art Start is an inspiring example of how art can be used to help those who need it, and of how art can play a significant role in changing lives. We’re delighted to support it and hope that it continues to go from strength to strength.