When the LSU Museum of Art hired Lucy Perera three years ago, her job was simple — take the art outside of the museum. Perera, the museum’s coordinator of school and community programs, organized a project while working in New Mexico that brought opportunities for art to underprivileged children.
Once she arrived in Baton Rouge, Perera established the Neighborhood Arts Project, an initiative that brings books, games and art projects to communities where children otherwise would not have access to them. The project set up this Saturday across the street from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Perera said her goal with Neighborhood Arts was to take the museum’s mission out of the “ivory tower” of the museum environment.
“The problem is, how do you get people involved in the idea or the mission of museums, which is to act as celebrations of creativity, if they can’t get there?” Perera said. Museums’ patrons traditionally have higher income and easy access to transportation, she said, and her goal was to bring the museum outside of that sphere.
Beginning in summer 2013, Neighborhood Arts was out setting up tents at McKinley Alumni Center and Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, where neighborhood children could play games and work on art projects without paying fees or worrying about being disciplined. The program has since expanded to four weekly sites across Baton Rouge.
Perera said the pressure-free environment of the program allows students to express themselves more freely.
“One of the things the kids like most is not getting in trouble,” Perera said. “At school, they may have to teach to a lesson or focus too much on grades or discipline, but we’re set up so all the kids succeed.”
She said hundreds of children have participated in the program and there have never been any issues with discipline.
LSU architecture senior Dasjon Jordan, an intern with the program, said providing kids with an opportunity to express themselves creatively helps them become comfortable in a learning environment. Over time, he said, the kids planned to attend every week and began to bond with the program’s volunteers.
Jordan said he saw building stronger relationships with children as the program’s main goal.
Between the two of them, Jordan and Perera masterminded Neighborhood Arts’ newest project, the Free Little Libraries program, which will provide small public bookshelves to be installed around Mid-City.
With his background in architecture and design, Jordan drafted a birdhouse-style design for the libraries with Plexiglas doors, but the structures themselves were built by the program’s workers — mostly Episcopal High School students working through the Love Our Community Summer Youth Employment Program — and decorated by the children in the program.
Jordan said giving the libraries to children to decorate helps them take ownership of the project, and leaving it to communities to monitor them emphasizes that idea.
“Involving people in the community helps make it theirs,” Jordan said. “ It plants the mentality, like, ‘I made that.’ ”
Editor's Note: This story was changed on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, to correct the art project partner site to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.