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Speaking of art ...
For the Baker City Herald
Paul Hoelscher never stops moving during the hour — he rustles up paper and paints, he praises creativity, he lends inspiration.
The projects are as diverse as the kids — intricate painting, bold sports posters, an American flag colored with markers, a tornado sketched with charcoal, a “giant fortune-teller thing.”
“It’s whatever we have to use to make what they want to make,” Hoelscher says.
“You can spend the first day trying 40 different things to find something you like,” he tells a student new to class.
This is ArtSpeak, a program founded in 1987 to serve underprivileged and at-risk children in the community.
The inspiration came from a dance program funded by the Juvenile Services Commission for female juvenile offenders.
The instructor was Debbie Friedman, who offered a safe, creative place for teenage girls struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, criminal and violent behaviors and early parenthood.
In a written history, Friedman says “dance class offered something very positive for them at a time when there was little hope.”
The program grew over the years, featuring performances written and presented by the young women.
By the mid-1990s, ArtSpeak began looking at programs for families and young children.
Again, from Friedman: “Perhaps the most serious issue we face is that children raised in chaotic, addictive, and dysfunctional families are missing some major building blocks for their character and survival. The arts can be a great aid for these children.”
For years she offered an ongoing dance class after school at South Baker, Brooklyn and North Baker.
“For them it’s something that’s secure. You’re there, and it’s stable,” she said.
When Crossroads Art Center moved to Main Street in 1996, a relationship was formed with ArtSpeak to foster more community interaction.
This partnership led to a space for classes, and more artists becoming involved with the program.
ArtSpeak has benefited from grant money awarded locally and statewide. The only expense is the instructor’s salary; all space, supplies and snacks are donated.
Ginger Savage, executive director of Crossroads, says ArtSpeak will never be a self-sustaining program, but it will continue regardless.
“It is about a safe place to be creative and be a kid,” Savage says.
When the elementary schools were rearranged into grade levels, an opportunity arose to bring students in Grades 4-6 to Crossroads for an ArtSpeak session with Hoelscher.
The population served by ArtSpeak has expanded greatly from that first group of female offenders — the term “at-risk” has broadened to simply define a student who needs a little extra in their life.
A group of 10 to 12 comes from South Baker twice a week, and Hoelscher goes to Brooklyn once a week to work with students there.
Andy Ballard, child development specialist at South Baker, said students come and ask about the program, usually the week school starts.
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” he said. “The kids who have been a part of it come to me.”
Most of the kids are not involved in other afterschool activities. Throughout the year, ArtSpeak serves 20 to 24 South Baker students each week.
And, Ballard said, for those truly interested in art, what could be better than learning from a professional?
“It nurtures that skill with someone who is so incredible at it,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be able to send kids that way.”
Friedman hasn’t taught ArtSpeak for several years because of time restraints, but she often sees former students around town.
They say hi, give her a hug, say how much they miss dancing.
“It’s amazing the impact it has on children — it’s something that sticks with them,” she said. “The kids just eat up having positive interaction with somebody.”
Soon after this arrangement began, Hoelscher realized that these kids were tired and hungry — a snack at the beginning solved most rowdy behavior.
Remember how ArtSpeak works because of donations?
Crossroads welcomes anyone willing to give snack items for these ArtSpeak programs — suggestions are crackers, cookies, snack mix, trail mix, string cheese and fruit juices. (They have some freezer and refrigerator space.)
Also, monetary donations could help purchase fresh fruit or yogurt. Donations can be sent to Crossroads, and earmarked for ArtSpeak.
Art supplies are appreciated as well — craft items, paints, brushes, papers, etc.
For more information, call Crossroads at 541-523-5369.