Nurturing the Hearts through the Arts

Jesse Pfaff / ACH Clear Pathways After School Arts Program Intern

ACH Clear Pathways has a slogan. This past Monday while I was attending the internship, Ms. Ty, the founder of ACH Clear Pathways, visited all of the art students in the newly renovated conference room. It was dinner time, so all three of the majors were present. ACH Clear Pathways After School Program offers students the opportunity to take part in the visual arts, dance, or digital media. The different majors work in different areas of the building and are not always in one large group like we were Monday. Ms. Ty came into the room, making sure to stay six feet away since most of the kids had their masks off to eat, and asked the students, “what do we do here at ACH Clear Pathways?”. A few students mumbled through mouthfuls of mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce, “nurture the hearts through the arts”. She asked again, louder. More students replied to her, some seeming to do so begrudgingly. I got the feeling that this was something that Ms. Ty did quite often. She reminded the students that yes, they are here to nurture their hearts, but they need to be working hard as well. Why? They need to have art to present for the showcase.

The showcase is a community event where the students get to present and display what they have been working on during the semester at ACH. As Ms. Jill said, “we have to make a lot of pretty stuff for the showcase”. Ella, a bubbly, curious young girl asks, “why?”. The question was innocent enough, but Ms. Jill struggled to answer it. See, Ms. Jill and I do our best to create an environment where students feel safe, comfortable, and free. We try not to impose our artistic will on the students’ pieces. This is for them. The whole point is to nurture their hearts. ACH is unable to create this kind of space without donors. “Because the people with a lot of money are going to come, and we want them to see how awesome all of your stuff is. That way, they’ll give ACH money so you can keep making cool stuff”. She phrased it as gently as she could, but I think Ella and some of the other kids understood the gravity of what she was saying.

We want the students to feel safe to create whatever and however they want. There is no pressure to do anything a certain way. There is no “good” or “bad” when talking about the art the children make. After this conversation, Ella went and erased a significant portion of the drawing she was working on. She looked sad, distraught. “It’s terrible,” she told us. At that moment, she felt the weight of the future of ACH on her petite little shoulders.

No matter how hard we try, it seems that we cannot truly create a safe space where these kids can create with reckless abandon. The more time I spend with these kids and get to know them, the more I realize how their childhoods have been stolen from them. They have rarely had the opportunity to just be kids in a tumultuous political climate and global pandemic.  Now that I have come to this realization, I am doing my best to give all of the kids, including Ella, opportunities to be children.

I find myself thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. ACH is doing all that it can to help these students reach self-actualization. There may be some needs that we are unable to help them fulfill being an after-school program. This is why the showcase is important. The students will see their hard work come to fruition. It is not about the students making good or bad art, but giving themselves and other children more resources to continue trying to make a safe space for kids.


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