BRUNSWICK, Maine — In a world filled with technology; social media; now, even remote learning – it can still be difficult to really connect with children. In fact, their worlds have become so full of distraction that some could argue, it's even more difficult now.
For 16 years, an organization based in Brunswick has been working to make more meaningful connections, especially with children in lower income neighborhoods. And it's doing that work in a colorful way, though the traveling ArtVan.
Jamie silvestri firmly believes in the power of art; from self expression to a form of healing or coping, she’s made it a mission to share it and help others create, "I started ArtVan in 2004 through the city of Bath."
Over 16 years, the colorful van has been traveling Bath, Brunswick, Lewiston, Auburn, and Biddeford to meet up with kids ready to try something new. While the goal is to do some painting, there’s something deeper happening here.
"As an art therapist and having worked and having been trained in clinical settings, more institutional settings, I have this all in here; but when kids walk in the door I see them with full potential, as complete human beings regardless of my clinical mind going, ‘oh, he’s ADHD,' or 'they’re very depressed,’ I try to really stay away from that and meet them where they’re at as little human beings," Silvestri explains.
The first step in that is creating a safe space for creativity and self-expression. Ultimately, once the art starts; so does the connection. "A lot is social skills and kindness," says Silvestri. "Dealing with peer conflicts and family conflicts, and offering them the space to express that in a way that’s safe to themselves and others."
"Long-term goal is to really build skills that they carry through in their own families and their own peer relationships outside of art van; in school and community, to develop a sense of resiliency towards challenges and difficult situations." It’s important work Silvestri and her team knew needed to continue, even through a pandemic – although it did add costly challenges.
"We created art bags and we started that in March," Silvestri says. "So it only took two weeks to really figure out what we are going to do... We ordered new supplies we were gloved and masked." They were also still making connections; but this time with art drop offs and instructional videos on YouTube; letting kids know that their friends are still here for them.
Through the projects and the connection - even if it is through video and deliveries - Silvestri says the goal of ArtVan has been the same for 16 years… to meet kids wherever they may be in life, and form safe and meaningful connections through art.
To learn more about ArtVan and how you can help support it, click here.