Free Arts uses the healing powers of the arts to help abused and homeless children build resilience and learn to trust and heal. All of the children in Free Arts programs have experienced combinations of family trauma, homelessness, or violence.
Due to COVID-19, like many other agencies, Free Arts had to temporarily close their doors and they estimate that 154 traditional activities will be cancelled due to COVID-19 (March – Sept.) resulting in 2,707 children not being served in a traditional way. Halting interactions and activities between children and their Free Arts weekly mentors as well as professional teaching artists, did not stop them from finding new ways to interact with kids. Now more than ever, Free Arts is vital in helping children cope with and navigate these uncertain times.
The Free Arts team brainstormed art activities that children can participate in without having to meet in person. They came up with many great ideas to continue interacting with the children that they serve including:
Art Heals Videos: A YouTube video series (http://www.youtube.com/FreeArtsofArizona) accessible to everyone that includes:
• Free Arts Family – Trauma-Informed Care videos introducing basic self-awareness concepts and art-based coping tools.
• Virtual Professional Artist Series – Teaching Artist-led workshops or series focused on a specific art form.
• Alumni Experience – Real life talks and art created by Free Arts alumni.
Free Arts Theater Camp: This will be the 20th year Free Arts has partnered with the Herberger Theater Center to create an unforgettable experience for teens. While teens typically perform to an audience of more than 750 people over the course of two shows, this year they will learn and rehearse via Zoom and their final performance will be recorded and shared online.
Alumni Connection: Intentional opportunities designed to allow alumni to connect to Free Arts, one another, and community resources. These include one-on-one connection captains for alumni, weekly video calls, and art supply delivery.
Caregiver Community: A weekly online meeting and corresponding Facebook group where partner agency staff members and foster parents can experience connection and creativity.
Hope Packages/Take-Home Projects: Ideas and materials for our partner agencies.
• Hope Packages – Curriculum for three simple art projects accompanied by a heartfelt letter of support and mailed to every partner agency site. 227 packages have been delivered to foster care group homes, shelters, treatment centers, and foster families.
• Take-Home Projects – Art projects with instructions and materials that partner agencies can request and are hand-delivered by Free Arts staff members.
Take-Home Projects were one of the many activities that Free Arts came up with to interact with children of all ages and with the help of the United for the Valley COVID-19 funding, Free Arts was able to distribute 2,730 Take Home Projects to children living in their partner agencies within the first few weeks of the pandemic. Since then, with continued support from the United for the Valley COVID-19 fund, Free Arts has distributed a total of 6,670 Take-Home Projects to children all across the valley and has plans to provide these Take-Home Projects to every child living in foster care in Arizona.
"The Free Arts take-home projects are a beautiful, simple gift in a bag. They are achievable for everyone and allow families to strengthen themselves." - Catholic Charities
Moving forward, as this transitional and uncertain time continues, Free Arts is looking for additional ways to connect children with caring adults including volunteer mentors and teaching artists. Currently, they are exploring a virtual weekly mentor model and piloting a small in-person camp series. Until they can all meet again in person, Free Arts will continue making an impact in children’s lives through a virtual lens, using art to transform trauma to resilience.
For more information on grants distributed in the community, please visit www.vsuw.org/covid19grants. To learn about our organization’s first seven weeks of local response read our ‘Response Report’ available at www.vsuw.org/covidreport.