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.”