BRATTLEBORO — Earlier this year, students involved in the Art in the Neighborhood program painted murals depicting trees and animals to hang in the Crowell Lot, a park wedged between High, Union and Green streets.
This year, the students, who all live in public housing projects in Brattleboro, will create poems and stories through a method of shared narrative. Students will then create books for their writings.
"The purpose of the project is to enhance verbal fluency and enrich language for students in these communities," said Mollie Burke, who founded Art in the Neighborhood in 2008 and currently serves as state representative for Windham 2-2.
For the poetry project, "Image to Page: Poetry, Art, and Books," Burke is working with Verandah Porche, a poet who has lived in Guilford since 1968.
The point of the Art in the Neighborhood program is to engage young students to feel more confident so that they can initiate a project and create art within that framework, said Burke.
"We have all these great after-school programs in Brattleboro, but I wanted to have something for kids to work on where they live ... [and] to have access to a high-quality enrichment program," she said.
Art in the Neighborhood provides free art classes to children living in Moore Court, Ledgewood and Westgate.
"We have a budget of about $32,000 a year, with the majority coming from grants and donors," said Burke. "The majority of our funding goes to paying teachers. Artists deserve to be paid."
Burke said she was inspired in the founding of Art in the Neighborhood program by the Roosevelt-era New Deal that brought artists into communities around the country.
"There are a lot of programs like this that use art as a vehicle," said Burke. "The process of making art is an empowering process. It's not just about making art, though. It's about helping the kids to find their best self."
She also said there aren't any requirements to participating in the program. The kids just need to show up and get engaged, said Burke.
Burke's nonprofit organization recently received $3,000 from the Vermont Arts Council for the poetry project. The Vermont Arts Council receives matching-grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the state of Vermont. The VAC also accepts direct donations from the public. Grants disbursed by VAC cover a number of different areas, including art in state buildings and for cultural facilities. The VAC also funds the Artists in School grants and the Poetry Out Loud program.
The grant funding Burke received was via the VAC's Arts Impact program. According to VAC's website, Arts Impact Grants support non-profit organizations, municipalities, and schools in their efforts to add vibrancy to Vermont communities by providing equal and abundant access to the arts. "The Council is especially interested in proposals that identify and break down barriers to participation," states the website.
Burke is also a participant in the VAC's Artists in School, and has led arts projects in Academy School, Green Street School and Chester-Andover Elementary School.
"What's great about the Artists in Schools program is the school districts don't have to pay anything," she said. "This is good because a lot of the funding that at one time had been set aside for the arts has dried up for various reasons."
Recently, as part of the Artists in School program, Burke worked with fourth-grade students to create hand-drawn and hand-painted historical maps of Vermont.
To make a donation, send a check made out to Art in the Neighborhood, 62 West St., Brattleboro, 05301.
For information on the Vermont Arts Council visit www.vermontartscouncil.org.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.