by Kevin Dicciani
The Fresh Artists Mobile Museum of Mini-Masterpieces – a SEPTA bus covered inside and out with the artwork of 33 local students – took to the road and visited the public schools of the students whose artwork is featured on the first-ever “rolling art museum.”
The bus was made possible by an unprecedented partnership between SEPTA, TITAN, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Fresh Artists. It debuted at the 2014 Philadelphia International Flower Show, during which the featured artwork was exhibited at the Market East Concourse for 10 days. It will travel in regular service throughout the city for the remainder of 2014.
Fresh Artists, which initiated the project, is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that focuses on school districts with high proportions of low-income families. It identifies exceptional art from K-12 public schools and invites children to donate the use of their art to help other children, free of charge, and without the expectation of reciprocity.
The group delivers art supplies to schools and designs groundbreaking programs that introduce children to new aesthetic experiences, presenting them with potential pathways for future creative careers, which gives them opportunities to bring about change through their art.
Barbara Chandler Allen, president of Fresh Artists, believes in “Empowerment through Philanthropy,” an impetus behind creating the Mobile Museum. She said the aim of her group and the project is to encourage children to change the world through philanthropy, in which the creativity of children is an indispensable conduit to change.
“Children’s art in unexpected, highly visible places shows people the talent and generosity of children, many of whom struggle with frightening life challenges,” Allen said. “The brilliant art reminds people that regardless of the severe problems in public education, the children in these schools have extraordinary promise and potential.”
Fresh Artists invited all K-12 children in public schools from Philadelphia, Norristown and Chester to adopt and interpret a famous floral still life from one of the four Philadelphia art museums – the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Woodmere Art Museum, the Barnes Foundation and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Allen said the Mobile Museum would help “demystify museums” and give children the chance to feel comfortable in those environments which are typically “stuffy, high-brow, and very, very persnickety.”
More than 350 students submitted their artwork, interpreting paintings by artists such as Cezanne, Matisse, Gauguin and van Gogh. Out of those submissions, 33 pieces of art were selected. Sixteen of those pieces were chosen to be part of Fresh Artists’ award-winning children’s art collection, which is also available for corporate installations in an effort to help raise funds to deliver art supplies for the poorest schools.
On June 11, en route to various public schools in the area, the Mobile Museum made its first stop at John Story Jenks School in Chestnut Hill, where six of its students had their artwork selected to appear on and in the bus. The student-artists got a chance to take pictures with their artwork and proudly display it to their classmates and faculty before the bus traveled to other public schools.
Allen believes that introducing children to making art at an early age removes the fear of creativity, which then fosters their own self-confidence and gives them the ability to succeed in various areas of their life. This concept, coined by an industrial designer David Kelley of IDEO, is called “creative confidence.”
Fresh Artists is the manifestation of this “creative confidence.” Allen believes that “people who think of themselves as ‘creative’ have less anxiety, try harder, and are more resilient in the face of failure.” She also said that people living in deprivation and danger need “art more than anyone in the world.”
It’s a huge reason why Allen believes in displaying the children’s artwork on the sides of SEPTA buses to parade it around the city and draw attention not only to the talented work being done, but also to the cause of cyclical philanthropy – wherein children inspire other children, adults, and adults inspire one another to get involved and continue the philanthropic effort of giving without the necessity of receiving.
Allen said that a fourth grader’s piece of art was recently installed in a law firm. A young lawyer at the firm, she said, remarked that he couldn’t believe the artwork was from a fourth grader.
“All you hear these days is the sad state of the public schools,” he said. “This child shows hope and promise. What can I do to help?”
After seeing Fresh Artists’ idea of cyclical philanthropy in action, Allen hopes that the Mobile Museum becomes an annual event for the city. If it does, it will only draw further attention to the public schools, their art-programs, to the ubiquitous need for quality education, in turn illuminating the promising children who, using creativity to enact change and spread awareness, can lead promising lives in the future if given the chance to do so in the present.
For more information of the Mobile Museum of Mini-Masterpieces and Fresh Artists, visit www.freshartists.org.