The Freeman Arts Pavilion’s latest initiative to ensure local students have access to arts experiences despite limited in-person opportunities will impact over 21,000 children.
Freeman Arts — a program of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation, a fundraising arts nonprofit located in Selbyville —partners with schools on Delmarva to build a relevant, impactful Arts in Education program through its Arts Access Initiative. Its most recent project, called Creative Nourishment Kits, will fill the void of arts education programs as teachers and parents continue to face the demands of remote and hybrid learning.
The nonprofit commissioned local artist John Donato to create step-by-step instructional worksheets for the innovative visual arts project. The kits are uniquely created for four grade-level clusters — K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12 — and align with the curriculum by focusing on character building and the growth mindset.
“The kits are designed to be a simple way to provide a screen-free arts experiences for students,” said Patti Grimes, executive director. Schools can choose to use the kits for in-person learning, distribute them to remote learners or both. Ideas for how to display artwork, include a virtual art exhibit, classroom competitions or sharing via the school’s social media platforms.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from 2020 it’s to remain flexible. We knew in-person arts programming would not be possible in the 2020-2021 school year, but our team has pivoted our approach so we can continue to provide exceptional arts opportunities,” Grimes said.
The response from schools has been extraordinary, she said. To date, 21,600 kits have been requested from four school districts in Sussex County. The first shipment of 4,300 kits was delivered to six schools in the Milford School District on Jan. 29.
“We’re thrilled with the response we’ve received from the schools,” Grimes said. “Typically, our Arts in Education program impacts about 20,000 students a year — we’ll achieve that by March this year. The benefit of arts-integrated learning is vital to a child’s education so to reach more students than ever is phenomenal.”
The Milford School District has a tradition of embracing and celebrating the arts, said Trish Gerken, the district’s public information officer, adding the Creative Nourishment Kits is an opportunity to continue to foster students’ creative energies.
“Our students often experience the arts while in school and this program is a wonderful opportunity for us to use the arts to bridge our homes and schools together as we develop our first ever online art gallery,” she said.
The district has developed a virtual space to exhibit student artwork, called “Blooming Buccaneer Art Gallery,” and hopes to utilize the Creative Nourishment Kits to build upon and expand the online space, Gerken said. As students complete their kits, they are encouraged to submit a photo to be displayed in the virtual gallery.
“We hope this program gives our students an additional opportunity outside of our curriculum to engage with the arts as a means of learning, self-expression, and an outlet for creativity,” she said. “(The) arts are an essential component of every child’s cognitive and emotional development … organizations such as the (Joshua M.) Freeman Foundation supports our efforts in engaging students in arts programming.”
The kits — which consist of an instructional worksheet in both English and Spanish; art paper and construction paper; a set of markers; a glue stick and string to display the artwork — are being assembled by Freeman Arts volunteers. Physical distancing and public health practices, such as wearing masks, frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer, have allowed the team to work safely for over 300 hours to complete the kits for Milford.
In the coming weeks, Freeman Arts will package and deliver nearly 3,000 kits to Seaford School District, followed by over 10,000 kits to Indian River School District and several thousands of kits to Cape Henlopen School District.
“Having to assemble 20,000 kits is a big lift for a small organization like ours, and we are extremely grateful for our volunteers who have worked diligently to make it happen,” Grimes said.