A rainbow: that’s what Jordan Avery, 4, wanted to create as he happily flitted from one paint can to another Friday, choosing the color palette for his work of art.
Standing under one of several tents outside Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, he was one of a number of children and adults expressing their creative side during the Neighborhood Arts Project.
“This is important for me because summer is a time when our young people aren’t supervised and may not have organized activities,” said Herman Kelly, pastor of Bethel AME Church.
The program started three years ago after Lucy Perera joined the LSU Museum of Art as its coordinator of school and community programs. The museum wanted to increase its focus on community programs, she said.
“In my experience, the most successful community programs are ones in which you actually go out to the community,” Perera said. The outcome was a traveling arts program where revolving art activities give children and adults a chance to be creative in ways they may not have thought of before.
“It’s very much about exploring,” she said.
Setting up tents outside in places made available by groups like Bethel AME on South Boulevard, high school and college student staffers assist in the artistic endeavors of painting, sculpting, bookmaking and drawing.
The program chooses neighborhoods “where there are high densities of young children and youths who aren’t involved in summer programs,” Perera said.
Marie Williams, 52, brought her grandchildren Jordan Avery, 4, and John, 3, to have something different to do on a warm and sunny day.
Throughout the morning, children and their parents continued to show up, taking turns at painting, making jewelry, getting their face painted or working with water colors.
Also helping out were members of the Baton Rouge Police Department as part of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project, which works to reduce crime in targeted ZIP code areas.
Some officers took a turn at painting while others sat for portraits in an effort to get more involved in the community rather than just responding to calls.
“So they see us in a positive manner. Show them that we are people too,” said Cpl. Jessie Barcelona, with the Baton Rouge Police Department.
Richmond Brown, 63, was one of the adults who partook of the experience, working on a watercolor of a flower and butterfly scene even though he usually works in chalk and pencil.
With very few exceptions, the attendees were mostly young boys or young men, and Perera said that’s normal for the program. For whatever reason, there aren’t many girls who come to the art days.
Last year, the Mayor’s Office gave the program money so it was possible to hire high school students as instructors. Once a week for nine weeks, tents would go up in Scotlandville one day, Gardere another day and then in south Baton Rouge on a third day. Almost 3,000 children participated in the activities last year, she said.
“I’ve never seen kids that aren’t having a good time,” said Leslie Schepp, 27, one of the staff members. Schepp, an LSU student working on her master’s in art history, is in her second year working with the Neighborhood Arts Project. She said the change in children over the summer is fun to watch. Although some children come in saying they can’t do art or get frustrated when “they’re not doing it right,” it doesn’t take long for those feelings to give way to a creative flow.
“I had a little boy who asked, ‘Can I come play over here?’ Not can I make art, but can I play,” Schepp said.
Although this is the third year of the program, the challenge in south Baton Rouge has been finding a location where there are a large number of children and a site they can safely get to. The organizers hope to have landed a good spot this year at the church, which is located in a residential area and has lighter traffic flow than other areas they’ve tried.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.