May 4, 2006
Art in the Afternoon
by KATHERINE ALMY
I'm always impressed by someone who has a great idea and then goes and does it, whatever it takes. In the fall of 2000, not long after the shootings at Columbine, Maureen McGarry had an idea for a program directed at teens. The Arcata Community Center had just been finished and it boasted a Teen Room, but there weren't yet any teens to fill it. Maureen, who had been working for several years as an artist in residence in local schools, wanted to start an arts program for teens to provide a safe place for them to go after school, as well as a creative, positive outlet for personal expression.
She wrote and received a grant from the California Arts Council to work as an artist in residence for the city of Arcata and started up her Arts in the Afternoon program. It's now in its sixth year of operation.
What puzzles me about programs like this is why it's so difficult to find funding to keep them going. Everyone agrees that paying attention to school children and teenagers is a good idea, yet the attention seems to be lip service, and actual monetary support is often elusive.
Left: Mural designer, Haley VanGemert working on the mural on the Wildberries wall at the corner of G and 12th in Arcata.
Actually, when Maureen started the program, she didn't have too much trouble finding money. The city matched the grant from the California Arts Council and she received every other grant she applied for. The CAC grant got them through the first two years nicely, but then the CAC fell apart after its funding was cut by over 90 percent in 2003. That eliminated funding for programs like Arts in the Afternoon all over the state. At the same time, grant funding in general was drying up. It got to the point where it wasn't even worth Maureen's time to apply for grants because she received so few of them.
It is heartening though, that at the time when state and federal support was all but withdrawn support from the local community came through. Humboldt may be economically challenged, but it makes up for it in enthusiasm. The city of Arcata agreed to cover the loss of the CAC grant, doubling their expense, and Arts in the Afternoon received some lifesaving contributions, like the $5,000 donation from Wes Chesbro in 2003.
You may have noticed the new mural on the Wildberries wall at the corner of G and 12th streets in Arcata. That was designed by Arts in the Afternoon participant Haley VanGemert (who, by the way, just won the New Grants to Emerging Artists award from the North Coast Cultural Trust), and painted by the teens. They received a small grant from the California Integrated Waste Management Board to help cover administration expenses, but what's cool about the project is that it cost next to nothing. The whole point was to educate kids about recycling, so the paint they used was all recycled paint from the Recycling Center or people's garages.
The other cool thing about the mural is that it, in turn, generated more funding. While the mural was being painted, it attracted the attention of Alison Hong, branch manager of the Arcata Wells Fargo Bank. Alison knew Maureen, and Wells Fargo had donated to Arts in the Afternoon before. She was impressed with the mural and asked Maureen if they could help with any other project. Maureen had been wanting to offer a cooking class, so Wells Fargo provided a special grant for the class.
Right: Three teens help with painting.
Sondra Schaub, widow of former Arcata Mayor Victor Schaub, met with the students once a week to teach the class, which started in February. It recently culminated with a special dinner prepared by the teens for their family and friends (I was also graciously invited). The cooks served us a delicious meal of enchiladas and salad with Mexican wedding cookies for dessert, and the teens were very proud of their work. This took place at the Arcata Community Center, in the Teen Room, the walls of which are decorated by art and murals that students have produced.
While we were eating I got a chance to talk to some of the parents and other folks who showed up. Alison was there, and so were Harmony Groves and Paul Pitino from the Arcata City Council. What I picked up from parents is that this age group (typically 12-13, although Arts in the Afternoon is open to kids from 11-18) is difficult because many adults feel that they are old enough to be left alone, and certainly the teens do. But in some respects, they need more supervision than ever, and while they may say loudly that they want to be left alone, many children at this age are subtly crying for attention. Modern society is complicated, and there are many ways for teenagers to make errors in judgment that can affect them for the rest of their lives. There is also a lot that they can learn that they don't seem to be getting in school these days.
I wonder what state legislators were thinking when they cut the budget to the California Arts Council. Did they think that the CAC was merely supporting elitist organizations for art snobs? Were they suffering from the delusion that art is "fluff," which we've all heard so much that we start to believe it, despite all the evidence that art plays a vital role in education? Did they realize that it was mostly children and teenagers who would suffer, as the few programs directed at them were cut for lack of funding? What exactly do we expect teenagers to do with all of that youthful exuberance and time on their hands?
Our youth need a creative outlet for expression just as much as adults do. If you enjoy painting, gardening, cooking, knitting, woodworking or any art form as a way to relax and express yourself, then you know how important it is to learn those skills and have a place to do your work. That's what Arts in the Afternoon provides for teenagers. If you can think of a creative way to support their endeavor, you would do well join the others who have stepped up to the plate. There's no shortage of need!
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