Does a freshly sharpened pencil make you want to write? Did your childhood imagination ignite when dipping a brush into an untouched oval of watercolor paint? Do you still get excited about a colorful stick of chalk that hasn’t yet been worn down or broken?
Brand-new art supplies inspire a unique sense of joy and possibility, among children and adults alike. And it’s these feelings that Arts Corps had in mind when we launched our COVID-19 Art Kit Project this spring, which ultimately resulted in the distribution of 1,321 free art kits to families in South King County.
The spring quarter is always busy for Arts Corps programming- it’s short and condensed- so when schools were forced to shift to distance learning, our Director of Arts Education and program managers had to quickly work to narrow the arts education opportunity gap in our region. With the need for children to have opportunities for creative expression greater than ever, we needed to find an immediate solution. Distributing art kits for students to enjoy at home with their families became a key strategy for Arts Integration Program Manager, Sabrina Chacon-Barajas.
Given our limited resources, we chose to focus most intensively on our relationship with Highline Public Schools (HPS). This was not only because we have long and deep relationships with the communities in Highline, but also because Arts Corps is a major funnel for arts education in the district. In certain communities within the district, we are the only funnel of access to arts education.
For several years now, Arts Corps has partnered with the City of Burien to help remedy this inequity by providing integrative work in Burien elementary schools. When it was clear that we needed to find a way to engage students in arts learning remotely, Heleya de Barros, Director of Arts Education, immediately reached out to Gina Kalman, Cultural Arts Supervisor for the City of Burien, to inquire about reallocating funds toward an art kit project. Her office agreed, and plans were made to use funds to support the design, assembly, and distribution of art kits centered on the themes of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), community, gratitude, and healing.
Given the immense amounts of creativity and resourcefulness among Arts Corps’ teaching artists, the design aspect of the art kits was the easy part. The hard part was how to distribute the kits in a way that respected social distance guidelines and kept HPS families safe. Thankfully, the district connected us with Anne Baunach, Executive Director of Highline School Foundation, and with their help, we were able to distribute hundreds of art kits via their free meal sites in White Center, Burien, SeaTac, and Des Moines. Additionally, OST manager Olisa Enrico worked with our partners at Southwest Youth & Family Services and Mt. View Elementary to reach approximately 100 additional families.
The greatest number of kits were distributed to students at Hazel Valley Elementary (HVE), a school with which Arts Corps has worked very closely for several years, including on our Department of Education-funded Highline Creative Schools Initiative. With support from foundations who share our commitment to deepening family engagement in school communities (thereby increasing student sense of belonging), we were able to build an art kit for EVERY SINGLE STUDENT AT HVE. As a graduation present, 5th graders received extra special art supplies in their kits. Arts Corps Veteran Teaching Artist Carina del Rosario designed the kits and worked with HVE to have them passed out this week, the final week of HPS’ 2019-20 school year.
In the midst of a global pandemic and pronounced racial tension and injustice, we hope that these art kits provide a glimmer of hope and inspiration to the 1,321 families who received them. We’re so grateful to our teaching artists, funders, volunteers, school and community partners for helping make this innovative project happen so quickly. A special thanks to Laird Norton, Horton Foundation Fund, Discuren Foundation, 4Culture, Arts Fund, and the Ketcham Family for their support of this project.
Given the success of Arts Corps’ COVID-19 Art Kit Project this past spring, we hope to continue the project into the summer. Under the leadership of Meredith Arena, Arts Corps Veteran Teaching Artist, and Olisa Enrico, Arts Corps OST Manager, we plan to distribute approximately 300 additional art kits for summer learning at 4 sites in partnership with Southwest Youth and Family Services.
Arts Corps COVID-19 Art Kit Projects at a Glance:
- Total art kits distributed = 1,321.
- Art kits distributed to 10 sites across South King County
- Partnered with Highline School Foundation to distribute kits at meal sites in White Center, Burien, Des Moines
- Each of the 475 students at Hazel Valley Elementary received art kits. 5th graders received special art kits to celebrate their graduation from elementary. Kits included a mixed media paper pad, micron pens, and either skin tone crayon set, maker set, or chalk set.
- Teaching artists, classroom assistants, Arts Corps staff, and volunteers dedicated approximately 90 hours to construction of art kits