ArtReach is a nonprofit visual arts education program in San Diego, and the name is spot on. The organization reaches out to schools to bring art to students.
The organization was born from its sister group, ArtWalk. Every year artists, and art lovers, visit Little Italy for ArtWalk, an annual urban art festival. The ArtWalk team noted the dwindling budget for arts education in the region and they said they could respond by bringing together artists to teach workshops to young students.
They started with just one director and one artist but have grown to a staff of eight and now reach more than 5,000 students a year from National City to Ramona.
ArtReach Program Director Judy Berman Silbert and Ramona Elementary teacher Diane Dechaine have a longstanding friendship based on the arts. When ArtReach received grant money from Qualcomm to fund workshops at schools, Silbert thought immediately of her friend. They sent in the application and brought ArtReach to RE for a three-day event in early June.
“ArtReach was a wonderful opportunity for our students,” said Dechaine. “They were engaged from the moment they came into the multipurpose room until they left. The artists gave excellent information, which inspired our students to create. Each individual class had one and one-half hours to spend with the artists. They were so supportive and positive that our students were given room to be creative.”
The event featured ArtReach artists Catherine Dzailo-Haller and Elizabeth Morton, who taught the workshops assisted by ArtReach colleague Jessie Keylon and volunteer and Ramona resident Hilary Galkin-Griffith. The projects were based on Amate Bark Paintings, a Latin American art form that depicts scenes on bark from fig or mulberry trees.
Dzailo-Haller and Morton started the day by talking to students about the art form and then gave a lesson that included line, color, form, tinting and more. After the lesson, students went to work to create their own original work. The theme was nature and the students used oil pastels to depict animals, flowers, tropical forests and other colorful scenes.
“The ArtReach team worked with students individually as they drew, encouraging and demonstrating, talking about foreground, middle ground and background, the use of white to highlight or the traditional Amate outlining with black to make images pop off the page,” said Silbert. “Not only were the students uniformly proud of their work, the results were breathtaking. All of the artists that go into the schools bring their individual artistic talents and passions—from art therapy, to a focus on using recyclables to create art, to plein air oil painting and more—but share the belief that art is necessary for children. Not only does it help students look at the world with a new vocabulary, it also hones critical and original thinking skills.”
Dechaine recalls one student who was so pleased with his work.
“He commented, ‘I don’t usually draw, because I didn’t think I was good,’” she said. “He proudly gave his artwork to his father for the upcoming Father’s Day.”
Dechaine is searching for funding so ArtReach can be an annual event.
“ArtReach allows students an opportunity to work in a supportive setting while engaging in out-of-the-box thinking,” said Silbert. “The word ‘mistake’ is not in the ArtReach vocabulary. The highlight of each workshop for us is when a student who feels stuck in the beginning proudly holds up his or her work at the end and says, ‘look what I did.’”
For more information about ArtReach, visit www.artreachsandiego.org, or on Facebook look for ArtReach San Diego.
For information about bringing an ArtReach program to a school, call 619-615-1090.