Resilient Community Arts expands access to art for low-income families

EASTHAMPTON – While it may be believed that ‘art is for everyone’, unfortunately not everyone has access to the opportunities that art provides.

But Maddie McDougall hopes to change that in Pioneer Valley with the help of her new nonprofit Resilient Community Arts.

The organization, which moved into Suite 44 of the Eastworks Building in Easthampton last year, offers subsidized programming for people who are interested in art but have not had access to opportunities. Resilient Community Arts operates as a nonprofit organization through fiscal sponsorship with the Pioneer Valley Project in Springfield and offers programming in multiple media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, macrame, and fiber arts. There is also a wall where attendees can suggest other art media they would like to learn about and which the nonprofit could help facilitate.

The non-profit organization also offers personalized group programs for all ages and backgrounds.

McDougall, who is the co-founder and director of the organization, aims for nearly 60% of attendees enrolled in Resilient Community Arts to come from low-income households.

“The reality is that most arts infrastructure leaves out a large portion of the population,” she said. “…It is very difficult for low-income families to participate in arts programs for a variety of reasons, whether it be finances, transportation, or childcare…The world is not built for families who work most of the time.”

McDougall, from Easthampton, holds a bachelor’s degree in art and education from Springfield College. She began her career teaching visual arts in Springfield public schools. The experience propelled her interest in how to build community spaces and meet the needs she observed along the way.

“The driving force is wanting to open access to the arts. There is such a great and vibrant arts scene in the valley, but who participates in it and who has access to it is a very limited group, a group of people with disposable income, people who have access to child care children and who can take weekends off,” she said. “Our mission is to provide an accessible, community-driven arts space that fosters meaningful independent creativity as well as collective efforts to use the arts as a vehicle for social progress and equity.”

As part of these efforts, all programs are offered on a sliding scale. Resilient Community Arts currently offers K-12 after-school programs through a partnership with Sharon Leshner of Color Collaborative Studios, also located in the Eastworks building. Currently, group sizes are limited to six to eight people due to the pandemic.

As part of the after-school program, McDougall said much of his teaching approach as well as the physical organization of the studio itself is influenced by a style of arts pedagogy called Teaching for Artistic Behaviour. The central theme is that the student is responsible for his learning and sees the space as his own studio. Their work is typically rooted in one of eight guiding principles: understanding art worlds; stretching and exploring; reflection; observation; develop crafts; engaging and persistent; view; and expression.

“Instead of telling kids to ‘do whatever they want’, we encourage them to use the skills they already have with a paintbrush, for example, and think about how to relate it to a piece of specific story that we may have seen before,” she said.

Another program offered by the organization is called Womxn’s Support Group, which McDougall says provides a safe space where women, women, and gender-wide people can come together.

Resilient Community Arts is offering scholarships to four teenagers who are interested in the arts and using studio space, and who are on a low income. Interested applicants will be required to commit to four sessions per month and explain why art is important to them. Financial need will also need to be demonstrated, for example by showing a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit card.

The scholarships were made available through a combination of funding from individual donations as well as city support through American Rescue Plan Act funds, McDougall said. To apply, visit https://www.resilientcommunityarts.org/.

Going forward, McDougall and Grace Vo, co-founder of the nonprofit and head of studio logistics, hope to raise awareness about the need for access to the arts.

Growing up in Weymouth, Vo said she wished an organization like Resilient Community Arts existed. Vo, who holds a degree in studio art from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said the value of the arts for young people is so vital and often overlooked.

“Art is often seen as a luxury and something parents may not want to spend ‘extra’ money on, but it’s so much more than tuition. And I’m so honored to be a part of something that will help bring possibility and opportunity to those who want it,” she said.

Emily Thurlow can be contacted at [email protected]

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