by Sue Ann Rybak
Sunny Mizelle, 3, kneels on the floor at Project Learn School in her red tights as she lightly strokes white acrylic paint on her matted art paper. She smears paint on her forehead as she brushes a blond strand of hair out of her eyes. Although the painting looks nothing like the pink arrangement of flowers in the center of the floor, it is no doubt a beautiful piece of artwork.
Thanks to two Mt. Airy teachers, Joan Fox and Debby Pollak, children can come to the school and learn about the joy of art. One Saturday a month for nearly 20 years, Fox, an art teacher at Project Learn in Mt. Airy, and Pollak, an art teacher at Wissahickon Charter School in East Falls, can be found teaching art from 10 a.m. to noon at Project Learn. Both Fox and Pollak believe art is something that should be shared.
“Teaching art for me has always been about connecting with children and finding ways to help them see our world a little more deeply, or take a few extra moments when looking at something – descriptions and appreciations of the small details,” Pollak said, “and hoping that they believe what they make is beautiful and important, and that they are beautiful and important.”
Fox and Pollak started Project Learn’s free Saturday Community Arts Program in 1995 as a gift to the community from the school, which had just opened a new addition. For the past nine years, the program has offered a free monthly cooking class for children, also taught by faculty, and, briefly, a writing class.
The goal of these programs is to insure that the school remains a community resource even on weekends. Teachers volunteer their professional skills, and the school provides the classroom space.
Pollak, who had taught art at Project Learn for 14 years, has a bachelor of fine arts degree from what is now the University of the Arts. Fox, who has taught at the school for 22 years, holds a bachelor of fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Pollak, 52, said Project Learn’s Saturday Community Arts Program has been funded by grants from community organizations.
“Joan and I strike a great balance in our teaching styles,” Pollak said. “Our reactions to things are very similar, but we come to things differently.”
And she gave an example:“When we’re gluing something, Joan says ‘a little dab will do you,’ and I say, ‘glob it on.’”
Pollak said their friendship was “woven into our Saturdays.”
She said that even though she no longer worked at Project Learn, teaching art at Project Learn on Saturdays helped her to stay connected to the school.
Fox, 53, defined Saturday Art for her as “something we do together.”
“It’s something we do as friends,” she added, “and it’s kind of the essence of our combined efforts. We’ll do it until one of us doesn’t want to do it. It’s something we do together, and when we can’t do it together or one of us doesn’t want to do it, then it will just be done.”
“Making art with kids is something I love to do,” Pollak added. “It’s something I’ll do until I can’t. Art is a way to share. No matter how crowded the floor gets, we always make room for every artist.”
“We like to say we are opening our doors to the neighborhood, and if you consider yourself our neighbor, come and make art,” Fox said.