Saving humanity through art

Art Sphere Inc. of­fers arts les­sons for loc­al kids to com­bat bul­ly­ing and in­tol­er­ance.

  • Rex Jolles, a second grader at Kearny Elementary School, shows off his painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, reminiscent of a family trip taken there years ago. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

  • Students in the Northern Liberties After School Program rehearse on stage before their skit performances, which were part of the “Saving Humanity Thru Art” exhibit. CAROLAN DIFIORE / STAR PHOTO

North­ern Liber­ties Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, 321 Fair­mont Ave., was buzz­ing with activ­ity on Dec. 17. Chil­dren were scur­ry­ing from room to room, par­ents were con­greg­at­ing in the foy­er, talk­ing and ming­ling with one an­oth­er, and a mul­ti­tude of smells waf­ted from the kit­chen.  

It was all part of Art Sphere Inc.’s “Sav­ing Hu­man­ity Thru Art,” an event that dis­played not just loc­al chil­dren’s art­work, but also how they have learned to cope with their emo­tions.

“We fo­cus on pro­jects that use art as a tool to teach kids about the big­ger is­sues of hu­man­ity, such as bul­ly­ing and in­tol­er­ance,” Art Sphere Inc. founder Kristen Groen­veld said. The or­gan­iz­a­tion de­pends solely on vo­lun­teers to provide ser­vices to more than 800 chil­dren in the Phil­adelphia area.

“The vo­lun­teers really make it all hap­pen,” Groen­veld said. 

The event fea­tured an ex­hib­it of the chil­dren’s art­work, fol­lowed by a hol­i­day potluck din­ner and per­form­ance of skits and mu­sic.  

This fall marks the first year of the pro­gram at North­ern Liber­ties Re­cre­ation Cen­ter. Re­cre­ation Lead­er Patty Mc­Cole said the art pro­gram was Groen­veld’s brainchild.

“Kristen was open to any­thing,” Mc­Cole said. “She de­cided to com­bat bul­ly­ing us­ing this multi-fa­ceted pro­gram, which in­cludes live per­form­ance skits, video and visu­al arts.”

The pieces on dis­play at the ex­hib­it rep­res­ent a child’s memory, or “happy place.” 

“We wanted them to ‘paint their happy place,’ caus­ing them to con­cen­trate on something pos­it­ive in their lives through the art­work they cre­ated,” Groen­veld said. 

Lynn Galla­gh­er, who works at the after-school pro­gram at the re­cre­ation cen­ter, said the kids ex­pressed much ex­cite­ment in par­ti­cip­at­ing in Groen­veld’s pro­gram. 

“They really en­joy be­ing able to do something with an ac­tu­al art teach­er,” Galla­gh­er said. “It brings out their ima­gin­a­tions.” 

Rex Jolles, 8, began paint­ing at age 5, but was able to de­vel­op his skills this fall through the Art Sphere pro­gram. His moth­er, Lisa Sol­is, was es­pe­cially en­cour­aged by the pro­gress he made. 

“He came a long way from draw­ing stick fig­ures. The level of de­tail in his sketches are really im­press­ive,” Sol­is said. 

Jolles, like many chil­dren in the pro­gram, at­tend Kearny Ele­ment­ary School at Sixth St. and Fair­mount Ave. Groen­veld said the school of­fers no art pro­gram for stu­dents, which makes the Art Sphere pro­gram es­pe­cially valu­able be­cause the art ser­vices offered are free of charge.

“We have the abil­ity to provide them the ‘grown up’ ma­ter­i­als most kids don’t nor­mally have ac­cess to,” Groen­veld said. 

Kalil Brown, a fifth grader at Kearny, had his paint­ing on dis­play at the ex­hib­it that fea­tured three-di­men­sion­al im­ages, sym­bol­iz­ing a deep­er mes­sage about the lar­ger pic­ture of life it­self. He said he fa­vors the act­ing as­pect of the class the most. 

“It gives kids a chance to ex­press them­selves,” Brown said. In ad­di­tion to provid­ing ser­vices to loc­al chil­dren, Groen­veld said the event is just as much about build­ing and grow­ing the com­munity at large. 

Par­ents who at­ten­ded the event were giv­en the chance to see not only their chil­dren’s art­work, but also the many ser­vices North­ern Liber­ties of­fers to neigh­bors of all ages.

Susan Hut­ton DeAn­gel­is said the over­all vis­ib­il­ity of the re­cre­ation cen­ter has greatly im­proved over the past few years.

“They really stepped it up,” De An­gel­is said. “They have a ceram­ics stu­dio, kar­ate classes, things we didn’t even know ex­is­ted.”

Mike and Kathy Wilkens, whose daugh­ter, Mena, is part of the after school pro­gram, said the new op­por­tun­it­ies offered by the re­cre­ation cen­ter en­cour­age more com­munity in­ter­ac­tion.

“They have pot lucks, canned food drives, and so many classes for adults,” Mike Wilkens said. “The prices are really reas­on­able, too, so I think that helps draw a lot of people.” 

Groen­veld said she hopes the kids use art as a way to open up and con­nect with the com­munity and their peers. 

“It’s really like a form of art ther­apy,” she said. “They learn to use art to af­fect change in their own lives.”

Brown said he used his art to ex­press what he learned from the pro­gram.

“Life is really out of this world.” 

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