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Kids experiment in arts

Creative Alliance joins libraries, schools for educational programs

Creative Alliance’s education programming started out in a church basement with about four kids and a simple idea: read a story and make art in response.

Since its humble beginnings in 1998, the Open Minds program has grown from a single summer program to a year-round venture at area libraries, explained Creative Alliance education director Linda DePalma. “I just love the idea. I like the idea of reading and art,” she said. “When you read a story sometimes you get inspired by the story. Sometimes you know all of a sudden something clicks and you can take it into a visual realm, and then vice versa.”

Providing education programming is one of the four major goals of Creative Alliance, a non-profit arts organization based in Highlandtown’s Patterson Theater. Education is perhaps the most low profile effort; Creative Alliance also showcases local artists at the Patterson, even housing artists from out of town in a residency program. By cultivating relationships with area schools and libraries, Creative Alliance now interacts with kids in classes, after-school programs and special workshops.

The Enoch Pratt Library now provides space and helps with registration for Open Minds, which earned a grant from the Baltimore Community Foundation in 2003 to continue year round. Soon an after-school program for 11- to 14-year-olds was added at the Patterson Park Library. That library loved the program so much they decided to fund a program for 7- to 10-year-olds at the Highlandtown Library, DePalma explained. “In general the library and Creative Alliance like the idea of keeping it in this neighborhood, because this neighborhood maybe doesn’t have as many opportunities as some other neighborhoods do,” DePalma said.

The organization tries to hire local teachers who are artists and love kids, and can become positive role models. Kids are introduced to all sorts of visual experiences, but also build confidence. “They learn how to problem solve,” she said. “They learn how to trust their own expression and their own feelings to get their stories across… It’s not really like an arts and crafts class.”

Kids often take their work pretty seriously. At Crossroads, a small public charter school in Fells Point, Creative Alliance used a grant to begin an after-school quilt making class for the middle school students. “I was in here when they were working,” DePalma explained. “I saw this kid moving her needle like nano, miniscule little movements, here to there to there to there. And I’m like ‘What are you doing?’ and she said ‘I have to make it a quarter of an inch.’ So I’m like ‘That looks like a quarter of an inch, close enough.’ And she’s like ‘No. Because it’s a collaborative thing we all have to follow this kind of rule.’ And she was right. You know you’re fitting together everybody’s blocks they all have to be on some kind of grid. And they did an extraordinary job. They really did.”

Kids also have the opportunity to learn through free workshops offered at the Patterson. For a few Saturdays in spring 2004, Creative Alliance brought in local cartoonist Brian Ralph—whose credits include work in Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” and the New Yorker—for Shazaam Teen Comics Workshop.

On the first day kids learned how to use basic shapes to create a top-heavy character and a bottom-heavy character, which might resemble a bully and a puny kid. Their work lined the walls of the upstairs workshop room at the Patterson.

In 2003, the Creative Alliance staff wanted to reach out to the area’s Hispanic population with classes in Spanish. A local artist who had worked with native people in Mexico’s Sierra Madre offered to teach a class in the traditional style of artwork he had been taught, which involves rubbing beeswax on a board and drawing a picture with thin yarn. “It was great to see the kids do it, they really got into it,” DePalma said. “He came on the Day of the Dead…That was great because he had all that imagery. Then they talked about what it is that the Mexicans do, and how they honor the dead and don’t cry over it and have a big celebration and bring food to the cemetery and dance and have a big party.”

Most images related to the theme, although some kids just made pictures of dogs, she laughed. The second time the artist came he had an exhibit in the small upstairs gallery. “He really shared his love of the artwork, his love of his culture and then they saw his commitment to his work,” DePalma said. “He must have brought like 75 pieces.”

Exhibiting the kids’ work is also a huge part of confidence building, DePalma said. At the end of every class an exhibit is held for family and friends. Kids show off their work, certificates are presented and everybody goes home with a little something: “usually a little book and art supplies,” DePalma explained.

The goal is to provide opportunities for kids that everybody should have, she added. “It’s a rich feeling—everybody should be able to do something creative and have materials to work with,” she said.

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