Art outreach seeks to take back kids

Published 4:33 pm Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A handful of teenagers sitting in a classroom at Shelby County’s juvenile detention center held their heads in their hands and looked on, uninspired, as instructor Bruce Andrews pulled out sheets of paper and chalk.

Andrews said it didn’t take long though for the creative juices to flow.

“Within the first 15 minutes of picking up the chalk, they became convinced they could do this,” said instructor Bruce Andrews. “Then they had pastels smeared all over their face and were really into it.”

Rows of artwork now grace the walls of the center. This new décor was all made possible through the Take Back Our Kids program brought to life by the Shelby County Arts Council.

Terri Sullivan, president of the arts council board of directors, said the objective of the program is to bring about a change in the students’ lives.

“It’s to help the students find a positive way to express their emotions, to realize that they have some creative talents and to give them some hope and excitement about something positive,” Sullivan said.

Classes began in September and now meet one day a week. Andrews taught the students basic concepts about drawing and painting early on. Just a few weeks ago, Flo Peters took over to teach the students photography. She said she’s seen the students mature.

“The thing I began to see among the group was that they were helping each other,” Peters said. “In this type of environment you have to be able to take constructive criticism. So, I’m seeing the things they are accepting now. Not only my constructive criticism to learn to do things better but criticism from each other.”

Andrews said his primary goal was to make sure every kid left the class with a finished piece. Now, there are piles of art pieces completed.

“I think our students really need opportunities to taste success, to find things they are good at and things they can be proud of,” said Mark Reed. “The students have responded well to the opportunity.”

It cost $15,000 to get the program off the ground.

Cawaco Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc., along with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, provided a $5,000 grant for partial funding of the art therapy program back in June. A portion of the program costs also come from funds provided by the Community Foundation of Birmingham for youth and senior outreach.

State Rep. Greg Canfield presented a check in the amount of $2,500 from the Shelby County Legislative Delegation last week to keep the program going.

“We all know that educating, reaching out to youth is very important especially when you have troubled youth,” Canfield said. “To find an outlet of creativity that sparks their interests and their enthusiasm and gives them something to focus on other than the problems they’re having that says a great deal.”

Sullivan said continuing costs include instructor fees and supplies. She said the council continuously submits grant proposals to keep the program going, but donations from the community are always welcomed.