While everyone is adjusting to stay-at-home life, month two—around-the-clock Zooms! Sweatpants 24/7! DIY haircuts!—schools are trying to preserve a sense of consistency for students.
For some educators, like art teachers, the task is not so simple. But taking the “see a need, fill a need” approach, Fresh Artists, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that empowers Philadelphia school students through artwork and philanthropy, has put together a project to spark creativity and provide a relaxing outlet for students stuck at home.
Fresh Artists was started in 2008 by Barbara Allen, a former art curator, and her son Roger, an industrial designer. Having sent her son to a private school, mother and son saw firsthand how some schools have an abundance of art supplies and resources, while most Philadelphia public schools are tasked with making the most out of very little.
“It isn’t right to have some children out in the suburbs with a storeroom filled with paper and glue and everything to make art. And the minute you cross into North Philadelphia, you look in, and the shelves are empty,” says Allen.
The duo became committed to the mission of fostering art equity. So they developed their organization to take children’s artwork and turn it into large-scale digital copies that could be used to decorate Philadelphia businesses’ offices and boardrooms for a donation. The organization then uses the donated funds to deliver under-funded Philadelphia public schools with art supplies and resources.
With over 2,300 pieces of artwork on display throughout the city, it’s hard to miss one of Fresh Artists’ installations, at places as varied as CHOP’s PolicyLab and the Market at the Fareway in Chestnut Hill.
The organization then uses the money from the sale of students’ artwork to provide under-funded Philadelphia public schools with art supplies and resources.
Now, during the pandemic, they’ve expanded their mission, by selling at-home art kits: For every one purchased, two get mailed to Philadelphia school students in need. Local art teachers have been providing the organization with the student they best feel would benefit from the kit)
They’ve sold more than 60 kits, which has provided twice as many to additional families throughout Philadelphia, Norristown and Camden.
Each one includes recycled easy-to-follow instructions; an assortment of brightly colored, end-of-life, recycled paint chip samples to make multiple paper mosaic artworks on cardboard squares; six pages of ideas and inspirational art made by kids in the Fresh Artists Collection; plus a glue stick.
Online, the organization also has free matching games, featuring student artwork.
Of her inspiration to address students’ need for art during this time, Allen cites an unlikely philosopher: “I heard Jon Bon Jovi say this on the radio and I just loved it: ‘When you can’t do what you do, do what you can.’”