Art Buddies Program Aims to Inspire Children by Showing What’s Possible

Phrases like these are quoted so often they’re practically clichés: Children are the world’s most precious resource. Children are our hope for the future. Empowering kids is the best way to ensure their future success.

These are just lofty ways of stating the obvious: young kids benefit from a little extra attention. And attention is exactly what a new program sponsored by the North Texas chapter of AIGA seeks to provide—with a creative bent, of course.

AIGA is a nationwide professional association for design, with more than 70 chapters and 25,000 members. It was established in 1914 and advocates a greater development, understanding, and accessibility of design. Local chapter AIGA DFW hosts a wide range of design-inspired events, initiatives, workshops, and parties, with goals like raising creative awareness, fostering women’s leadership, facilitating mentorship, or simply providing inspiration.

Beginning in February, Art Buddies, a program that pairs children in low-income areas with creative professionals for afterschool learning, will join the ranks of its programming. Timothy Bardlavens, AIGA DFW director of education and chair of the Art Buddies initiative, says he came across the idea when he found a similar program based in Minnesota. He couldn’t help but think about how much this unique program would benefit an area like Dallas.

“This program is about showing kids the greatness of what it is to be creative,” Bardlavens says. “It’s about exposure to the creative community so they’ll want to pursue jobs within it. It’s about helping them discover their creativity. We want to empower them to show that they can create what they imagine.”

Art Buddies will have its pilot run at Charles A. Gill elementary school, where it will combine with an afterschool art program already in place. Carlos Martinez, a teacher at Charles A. Gill, currently runs an educational program where children learn about famous masterpieces and then act out the paintings they learn about. (Example: after learning about the Mona Lisa, a child might dress up and pose like Mona Lisa.) The Art Buddies program will bring mentors into this environment—working creative professionals who will help children create costumes and build backdrops for their masterpiece art projects. It will also include a journaling component, where kids will write responses to questions like, “What do I want to do? When I have a bad day, what can I do to feel better?” At the end of the program, the children will present what they’ve learned.

“They’ll learn to use the creative process to think through ideas and help them come to fruition,” says Bardlavens. “It will empower them to express themselves creatively, and they’ll learn how they can ultimately be part of the creative industry.”
Mentors can be anyone with a passion for creativity, from a graphic designer to a photographer to a programmer to a freelance magazine writer. The idea is to expose children to careers they previously might not have been aware of and show them the importance of creativity. Additionally, the kids will learn useful presentation skills and be given a place for creative expression and introspection.

“A huge initiative from AIGA in general is to really represent the creative community and to support creatives throughout their lives,” Bardlavens says. “This is a way of ‘designing for good.’ We’re giving something back.”
The program will run from February to April and will occur once a week for about an hour or so after school. If successful, the program will most likely be implemented in other low-income area schools. Art Buddies is still seeking mentors, and you can find out more information about volunteering at the AIGA DFW website.

“This is open to anybody within any field as long as there’s a passion for mentoring and creativity,” Bardlavens says.

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