By Deirdre Moore, Arts Specialist at Burbank Elementary
It was 20 minutes before the event. Inside the Multi-Purpose Room, a team of dedicated volunteers was busy covering tables and putting out art supplies while outside a line was forming down the sidewalk of families eager to get started. It was Burbank Elementary’s first-ever Family Art Night in collaboration with P.S. ARTS*, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles. As I stood at the door and took the tickets for entrance, I witnessed the smiles on the faces of the dads, moms, grandparents, teens, and toddlers who’d come with their Burbank students to enjoy a night of making art together as a family.
This was a notable night for so many reasons. Not only was it the first time we had hosted such an event where whole families could relax and make art together — it was an event that brought together families, friends, school staff, and community organizations. P.S. ARTS helped support this event by bringing three staff members along, and we also had eight Burbank staff members, including our principal, and five volunteers from a San Diego-based arts organization, Collaborations: Teachers and Artists* (CoTA). Because of these helping hands, about 50 families (totaling nearly 150 people) were able to relax and enjoy a hands-on art-making event that was created just for them.
When I asked parents about the experience, one mom told me how art helps her relax and deal with stress, and that her daughters, third and fifth graders, like making art too. What was extra special was that their dad was also there, and the four of them were able to make art together. Another mom of a first grader talked about how much her son loves when they can do things together, so she always tries to take advantage of any opportunities the school offers for the two of them to enjoy. Yet another mother talked about how nice it was just to spend time with her family; she talked about how busy things get at home and how special it was to have this time set aside to do art together.
I know how busy everyone is, and I know evening events can make for a very long day. It makes me reticent to ask school staff to give up two-three hours on a weeknight to volunteer at an event like this, but I was so pleased to hear what positive things the volunteers had to say. One of my colleagues talked about how great it was to see the students so excited about an event and to see so much support from staff members, P.S. ARTS, and CoTA to ensure that it went smoothly. She loved the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere where families could just jump in and have fun. The fact that the activity was structured as well as open-ended and encouraged creativity was a plus for her. She added that she overheard some parents saying they were planning to frame their pieces — their finished artwork and the memory of the experience itself made it such a special night. Another colleague of mine pointed out that hosting a Family Art Night was an easy way to connect with parents in an informal setting. He commented that oftentimes you only see one parent attending a school event, but in many cases this event brought in both parents as well as students’ older and younger siblings, and they all had a chance to enjoy an art activity that was accessible and non-threatening.
As the main point-person for the event, I was really nervous about how it would all go off, especially because I did have so many people graciously volunteering their time and energy. As I watched our school’s families sitting side by side creating, sharing, chatting, and finding their own way of interpreting the activity, I was able to just relax and enjoy. Seeing dads daintily dabbing paint on their papers with cotton swabs and whole families working collaboratively on one piece made my heart smile. At the end of the evening, many of the young artists lined up to take the microphone and confidently share their pieces with the entire room. Seeing the pride in their faces as they described their art and watching the parents beam and snap photos reminded me of just how important it is for us to make the time and put in the effort to have events like these at our schools. The power of creating together and sharing such a positive, affirming experience will go such a long way in strengthening relationships between our staff members and families and in educating our families in just how important their child’s participation in the arts really is.
*P.S. ARTS and CoTA are among six partners organizations in Turnaround Arts: California’s recently launched Regional Coach Pilot Program.