Location: Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc and Andrscoggin Counties
Project Team: Jaime Silvestri - ArtVan Founder, Executive Director, Art Therapist. Jennifer Wilkey – ArtVan Programs Coordinator.
The ArtVan is a mobile arts therapy program that provides the arts to children and teens in low income neighborhoods that have little, if any, access to social services, after school and/or summer activities. Children freely express their feelings, learn to work together, help each other, and communicate respectfully with one another. Youth discover new talents in themselves, pride in their accomplishments, pride in their neighborhoods and a new connection with their larger communities.
How are you making Maine a better place for young people?
ArtVan is fun and creative! As a mobile arts therapy program that provides the arts to children and teens in Maine communities that have little, if any, access to the arts. ArtVan’s hands-on projects allow young people ample time, a variety of materials, and support to create and explore their ideas. The results are tremendous! Children freely express their feelings, learn to work together, help each other, and communicate respectfully with one another. Youth discover new talents in themselves, pride in their accomplishments, pride in their neighborhoods that expands neighborhood boundaries into the larger community.
From ArtVan’s eights years of providing services throughout Sagadahoc, Androscoggin, York and Cumberland counties we know how diverse these communities are. They include people with varied backgrounds; some have a history of mill life and a Franco-American heritage, fishing backgrounds, while other residents are newly settled from Mexico, Somalia, Iraqi, China and Sudan. This diversity will include people with varied behaviors, beliefs, and personalities. We know these Maine communities are based on different artistic expressions, attitudes, language and behaviors of their particular social group. Art crosses all modes of communication and ArtVan brings youth an awareness of the wider world outside their neighborhoods by using artistic means to share ideas and recognize differences in non-judgmental ways.
Among ArtVan’s measures of success are that youth work cooperatively with those of different backgrounds and opinions, both during and outside of ArtVan sessions. Through social art making, youth become less discriminatory and interact peacefully despite cultural differences, family incongruities, and ideologies. ArtVan helps young people plant seeds of personal growth and wellness to take healthy risks to better their lives and of those around them. They are inspired to take positive actions and build a stronger more creative Maine community.
What challenges in your community are you addressing?
Research shows that youth arts programs are powerful crime prevention tools. ArtVan is not familiar with any other Maine programs addressing anti-social and at-risk concerns in low-income neighborhoods with the same approach, nor any community-based artists acting as ongoing advocates for youth within their neighborhoods. Arts participation improves academic and emotional performance; youth learn to seek patterns, layer experiences and relationships, and activate change. Art making raises self-esteem, profoundly affecting social and emotional development, and rippling outward into communities. ArtVan does not access mental health and/or diagnostic information, but statistically about 35% of Maine school children have a diagnosed disability. ArtVan strives to eliminate barriers children face and to provide all-inclusive programs to see each other as artists.
Who will benefit from your idea?
ArtVan provides safe and encouraging environments for youth, ages 2-18 and living in low-income neighborhoods in Bath, Biddeford, Brunswick, and Lewiston/Auburn, Maine. Many have single parents working full time, resulting in minimal afterschool supervision. Severe financial struggles may have such maladaptive outcomes as domestic violence, tension, vandalism, and other stressors, leaving young people vulnerable to consequences of neglect, confusion, and isolation. ArtVan seeks to assist young people who live under these stressful circumstances through City Development Offices and other community resources. For people to learn about ArtVan there are ArtVan youth’s public art displays, press releases, articles, school resources, housing developments, social services, and word of mouth.
What major success would you like to see at the end or apex of your project?
ArtVan wants 100% of a community’s youth to attend ArtVan sessions to address vandalism, bullying, and other anti-social behaviors. Of these, we hope 70% will engage in socially acceptable behavior, resulting in positive neighborhood interactions and a productive community reputation; 100% will work cooperatively with those of different cultural backgrounds during ArtVan sessions; and 60% will be less discriminatory outside ArtVan sessions and live cooperatively with diverse people, live proactive healthy lives – be happy, be open-minded, be creative.
Any thing else you’d like us to know?
ArtVan’s Board of Directors voted ArtVan Youth Artists Allyssa Panther and Tyler Dorr as Youth Board members. Allyssa, a sophomore at Brunswick High School and three year resident of Perryman Village – one of ArtVan’s neighborhood programs. Six years ago, Tyler, was referred to ArtVan’s after school program by his guidance counselor. Now, a junior at Morse High School in Bath, Maine he is an active, and confident young person. In these past 6 months, they have attended all ArtVan board meetings, assisted at promotional events, organized art materials, and art-mentored younger youth. Both have gained self-esteem, self-confidence, social skills, peer respect, and artistic styles. We are in the process of supporting Tyler and his mother in assisting with scholarships for summer arts camps and later Arts College. Allyssa’s guidance counselor said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but do more!”