Making art, making buddies

Art Buddies afterschool program pairs art professionals with kids

WHITTIER — Shortly after 3:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, elementary school students started pouring into the Whittier Community Center multipurpose room.

The adults seated at about a dozen tables had been waiting there quietly, surrounded by art supplies, for half an hour. Then the kids came running in, and suddenly there was excited chatter in every part of the long room.

At one table, Larry Whiten and Rachel
Hambleton talked out the details of a crime scene. In a scenario straight out of Whiten’s imagination, someone had broken into a zoo and stolen several monkeys.

Whiten, a 4th grader at Whittier International Elementary School, hopes to be a forensic scientist when he grows up. Hambleton, a graphic design student, was using her artistic talents to help him imagine that career.

The two were paired up through Art Buddies, an afterschool program for Whittier students. Over six weeks this fall, more than 30 students worked one-on-one with
creative professionals to dream about their futures and create a costume for who they hope to be someday.

Whiten and Hambleton collaborated to build a crime scene investigation kit, including a camera, badge, notebook and maps. Next, they would make a lab coat for Whiten, who said forensic science combined two of his interests.

“I want to be a cop and a photographer,” he affirmed.

But that day, they were busy gluing pieces to a zoo diorama — the scene of the crime.

Hambleton, in her second year as an Art Buddy mentor, said kids aren’t the only ones who like to cut, paste and color.

“I get to play with all this cool stuff,” she said.

Tapping creative energy
In three decades as an art director and designer, Sue Crolick met a lot of the “wacky, wild and very, very fun” people who flock to advertising, marketing, architecture and other creative professions. Crolick founded her nonprofit organization, Creatives for Causes, in 1994, with plans to tap their energy for charitable work.

“I thought, how wonderful to bring all the energy and all that special talent to kids,” she said.

Crolick hired Program Manager Stephanie Vagle in 1997, and Creatives for Causes partnered with Whittier International Elementary School in 1998. There are now two Art Buddies sessions open every year to low-income students. The Art Buddies theme rotates to keep it interesting. (Usually a 10-week program, the fall session of Art Buddies was reduced to six weeks this year because of recent shuffling in the Whittier Community Education coordinator position, Crolick said.)

Whether students are imagining a future career or a fantasy village — as they do in the “Dreamtown” session — creative thinking is at the core of the Art Buddies

“We’re not just trying to take a few kids that are very talented and may become future art directors or designers,” Crolick said.

She is a firm believer that, whatever path a student chooses, creative problem-solving “can be an integral part of how they think and operate in the world.”

Crolick gathers art supplies and materials from surplus stores — everything from pinecones to paper and scraps of fabric to random plastic components — that the students and their adult mentors use to create their costumes.

Brenda Adams, who has a degree in art and used to work in advertising, helped 3rd-grader Alexis Rogers turn scraps of sparkly paper and some gold ribbon into a “drama queen” costume. Rogers said she wanted to be an actress, like the model Tyra Banks in the Disney movie “Life-Size,” one of her favorites.

“All of a sudden, she brought [over] the ribbon and then it became a necklace,” Adams said. “The next thing I saw was the earrings, and then the ring. With this collaboration, who knows what comes next?”

Employer support
Across the room, Amber Navarrete, who works for Minneapolis-based advertising firm Colle+McVoy, and 3rd-grade student Sophia Morrissette were working on a pink dress decorated with ABCs and trimmed with a piano keyboard.

“I’m a cool, funky teacher who teaches everything but Spanish,” Morrissette explained.

Why not Spanish?

“I like Spanish, but I’m not very good at it,” she said.

Navarrete said it was her second time participating in Art Buddies. Like many of the other creative professionals who sign up for the program, her employer gave her time off to participate.

Colle+McVoy Communication Director Molly McMillen said the firm has sponsored Art Buddies for more than five years, and about a dozen employees have volunteered as mentors.

“It’s kind of nice to get away from work,” Navarrete said. “I mean, advertising can be a pretty stressful industry. It’s just nice to get away and give back every now and then.”

Her younger buddy certainly appreciated it. Given the choice, Morrissette said, Art Buddies would be held every day after school, instead of just Monday

“Well, I would have a little break, maybe,” she added, “but I would still want it every day.”