Arts Council of Oklahoma City opens hearts, minds and communication channels with its All Access Arts program, which teaches visual, performing and music skills to underserved residents throughout the metro.
The after-school program at Lee Elementary School gives third-, fourth- and fifth-graders opportunities to explore their deeper emotions and talents.
“The kids eat up having a way of expressing themselves,” said Kathleen Blake, the site’s lead teacher and a retired public school art teacher.
She and assistant Kristina Haden lead a group of 15 students.
Fourth-grade Lee student Emili Carrion said she likes to stay after school to learn art because “it’s like science and all of that because you discover something.”
Indeed, Blake said the program’s purpose goes beyond teaching technique and terminology.
“I would rather them express themselves than learn the tints and shades,” Blake said. “And that has to do with taking it back to who they are and their environment and their world.”
Haden also emphasized the value of enabling expression, a common theme that ran through all conversations about the citywide program.
“I think they are becoming explorers of their identity as youngsters,” Haden said. “They get to express how they feel with different colors and how they can relate that to their emotions.”
Some students experience their first art projects through the program with the help of supplies provided by All Access Arts, the teachers said. The program also allows them to explore how materials work together as they create.
“There is no bad art,” Haden said.
Third-grader Salim Gonzalez proudly shows off his painting of a shoe, produced as a part of a recent “best foot forward” lesson in which he outlined the object without looking at his drawing.
The technique is called blind contour drawing and helps youth develop eye, brain and hand coordination.
At Brookdale Village assisted living center in The Village, Sheila Guffey and Laura Kent lead an All Access Arts program for senior adults of varying physical and cognitive abilities.
Guffey talked to Oklahoma Gazette as she prepared for a class on how to make clay jewelry and as the center’s staff helped students get comfortable at tables.
“With this program, I can see such a difference. Every week, someone thanks me and tells me how they look forward to it more than anything,” she said. “This age group only thinks of Rembrandt or the big artist.”
Guffey said students transform and open up as they overcome the initial assumption that they cannot create art.
“[They become] excited, and it actually helps them bond with each other,” she said.
Student Lulu Stephens pointed out the value of interacting with her peers.
“I’m learning to be artistic. The challenges really are good, and the companionship,” she said. “These people are just dolls when you get it out of them and they open up.”
All Access Art fits into Arts Council of Oklahoma City’s mission to “bring the arts and the community together,” said Peter Dolese, council executive director.
All Access director Sharon Astrin explained that the program runs year-round so it can reach as many people as possible and often utilizes community partnerships.
“There are just a lot of barriers,” Astrin said. “So it can be economic barriers. It can be geographical barriers.”
For example, to help overcome geographic barriers, Dolese and Astrin collaborated on a summer program that’s available through 18 libraries across Oklahoma County, which reduces travel and transportation conflicts.
Dolese said the program has another important benefit: jobs.
“We hire about 50 different teaching artists to work in the program,” he said. “We’re putting artists to work, and we pay a good wage, a competitive wage.”
In addition, community donors also provide vital teaching, acting and mentoring services to participants. University of Central Oklahoma adjunct musical theater instructor Billie Thrash said she donates to the program because of what she has seen it do for those it touches.
“I just consider it to be one of my better investments,” she said. “Any time that you can engage and involve other people who might be shut out [that’s a plus].”
Print Headline: Inspiring imagination, All Access Arts teaches community members of all ages how to better communicate through creation.