Rolling into Art
A Bath-based mobile program teaches underserved Maine children to express themselves.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photograph Courtesy ArtVan
For many people a cherished childhood memory is that of the ice cream van, with its trail of tots responding to a cheery song like they’re following a pied piper. For the past six years, a distinctly different type of van has been rolling into Maine neighborhoods, announcing not a cargo of sugary treats but the opportunity for young people to express themselves through art.
The ArtVan, a program that began in 2004 for two low-income neighborhoods in Bath (it’s currently in talks to merge with VSA Arts of Maine), has grown to also serve young people in Biddeford, Brunswick, Lewiston, and Auburn. Using a brightly painted van filled with paint, clay, markers, and even colored duct tape, ArtVan founder and artistic director Jamie Silvestri finds children as young as two and as old as eighteen wanting to express themselves through art. “Art therapy is nothing magic,” explains Silvestri, who holds a master’s degree in expressive art therapy and worked in institutional settings before settling in Maine. “It reaches the same goals as traditional psychotherapy, but it uses art to get there.”
After announcing the ArtVan’s arrival through flyers, school announcements, and the van’s own horn, Silvestri and program coordinator Allison Baird arrange their art supplies in a predetermined community center. From there, the community’s children take the materials in whatever creative direction they wish. “There’s a goal of how we can focus on helping the larger community through helping these small groups of kids,” Silvestri says.
In Lewiston-Auburn, for instance, she says young people often use art to talk about cultural barriers. In another community, the art may end up dealing with vandalism or some other issue facing residents. “You never know who is going to show up,” Silvestri remarks. “We have a core group of kids who tend to follow us, but you have a really transient population — people get divorced, move out of the area, or whatever. We offer kids freedom through the art-making process.”
ArtVan, 101 Centre St., Bath, 04530, 207-650-1608, artvanprogram.org
- By: Joshua F. Moore