When Linda Shirley heard a school in her family’s old neighbourhood was in need of assistance, she knew there was match to be done on the painting canvas and a number of other artistic areas.
Shirley, CEO of the Arts Connection, which provides fine arts and educational programming, has a special tie with Admiral Seymour elementary school in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. It’s where her father once went.
Known now as one of the poorest postal codes in the country, many students there face disadvantages to the point in which one of the teachers was sharing food with her students.
When that came to Shirley’s attention just over a year ago when the teacher went public, she got the wheels in motion to help.
“When I opened up the newspaper, I saw a big headline that there had been a letter written by a teacher at Seymour school, who had done it out of her frustration, about poverty at the school,” Shirley said. “I was quite moved.”
Shirley wrote back to the teacher and told her of her family’s history in the neighbourhood and was interested in getting her own arts school in Steveston involved.
“I wanted to see how in some way our school could get into a collaborative project to support the students.”
That led to the Arts Connection contributing arts supplies for Admiral Seymour’s art therapy program.
Students at Shirley’s school then raised money through a sock hop to help fund the purchase of more than 200 gift bags of art supplies for the east Vancouver students to use over the summer months.
“As we got into the fall, I got to thinking if it was to be made ongoing it had to be made even bigger,” Shirley said.
And that brought into play the Arts Connection’s newly expanded, 17,000-square-foot facility that opened early this year.
Starting later this month, half of the Grade 6 and 7 students from Admiral Seymour school will pair up with students from Westwind to spend time in the facility.
“We wanted to start with the older grades and catch them before they left for high school,” Shirley said.
During the day they will rotate through visual arts, dance, and drama, and conclude with students from both schools combining their efforts to produce a painting of their experiences.
“We’re hoping there will be some interesting stories that come from this,” said Margaret Stephens of the Community Arts Council of Richmond which was enlisted to help secure some grant funding and sponsorship in an effort to get the program firmly established.
“It’s a way to take the kids out of the environment that they live in, which is not very pleasant, bring them to a beautiful new facility, and pair them with kids in students from Westwind Elementary School.”
If more funding becomes available, Stephens said plans are to get some schools from east Richmond involved.
In March, the remaining group of students from Westwind and Admiral Seymour will pass through the Arts Connection. Both groups will then make a second visit before the end of the school year to round out their artistic trip.
“For me, merging helping kids who need it along with art from the community arts council was a natural,” said Stephens, who has been associated with Variety the Children’s Charity since 1980.