By Robin Chan, Intern

July 9, 2014

Through our Literacy Through the Arts Program (LTA), 2nd Grade students from PS15 visited the Tenement Museum, a structure erected in 1863 that once housed working class immigrants. It is now devoted to revealing historical accounts of immigration in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The students had previously visited the museum in December for The Tenement’s Meet Victoria school program, which introduced students to the historic figure Victoria Confino. Their past trip had significantly fueled their interests in both history and the arts, leading them to perform a play presenting Victoria as protagonist. Along with their maintained focus of Victoria as the central character in class activities, the students had imaginatively transformed her role and adapted her into the tale of Cinderella. The class developed their own fairy tale that incorporated details of Victoria’s experience as an immigrant residing in the Lower East Side during the 20th century.

Scrubberella-on-stage2-1024x764LTA Teaching Artist, Shawn Shafner, with 2nd grade students at PS 15.

Miriam Bader, Director of Education at the Tenement Museum, reflects on her experiences with the students, particularly on their performance in the play: “as the students activated Victoria’s story with their sounds and movements, I couldn’t help but think about what the real Victoria Confino would have thought about this development. I am pretty sure she would have liked their adaptation and cheered along with the rest of the audience.”

To read more about the day, review Miriam Bader’s blog post at

June 9, 2014

Thanks to the generous support of our corporate sponsor, Capgemini, Arts For All was able to offer our 11th annual A Day at the Met field trip to over 70 children on May 10th.  The field trip aims to expose children to the classics, inviting them to fully explore all the Metropolitan Museum has to offer. We serve different groups of children each year, and this year our participants were elementary students from PS 163 in the Bronx and teenagers from New Alternatives for Children. Approximately 96% of students in PS 163 live below the poverty rate, while NAC youth are living with medical disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. Students from both groups were eager and enthusiastic to learn throughout the day, evidenced by their active participation in art discussions. In reference to our volunteer organizer Renee Brown’s blog entry on last year’s event, “encouraging the enthusiasm and insights the students have for the art shown is an incredibly powerful
tool in fostering the continuation of excitement for the works of art and culture that they will continue to encounter as they grow and develop into adults.”

Here are some photos from the day. Arts For All would like to thank Capgemini for sponsoring the field trip and providing a team of enthusiastic volunteers. We’d also like to thank the dedicated Arts For All volunteers who donated their Saturday to help spread their love of art to the children we serve!

Met 310268604_10152340238701311_8568573296280117517_nMet 2Met

June 4, 2014

Meet our New Summer Intern: Robin Chan!

IMG_2884_2AFA: Give us a brief introduction of yourself.

RC: I’m an undergraduate student at NYU, double-majoring in Art History and Economics with a minor in Studio Art. I was born and raised in Hong Kong and attended an international school from the age of four. I’m bilingual, proficient in English and Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin). I enjoy spending my free time creating art, jogging, photographing and volunteering.

AFA: What are three words that best describe you?

RC: Adventurous, spontaneous, and creative.

AFA: What interested you in becoming an intern at Arts For All?

RC: From a young age, I’ve been interested in serving the community, particularly families that face socioeconomic difficulties. Throughout high school in Hong Kong, I’ve regularly volunteered at local orphanage centers and elementary schools, teaching children both English and mathematics. However, I perhaps became most involved in community and service upon pursuing a research project on the poverty line in Hong Kong towards the end of my junior year that focused specifically on “cage homes.” The experience prompted me to develop a children’s picture book that aimed to educate the young community about the notion of giving to those in need.

I also greatly appreciated the arts, particularly music, dance, and visual arts amongst other artistic forms. From the age of five until my teenage years, I took piano, drawing, and painting classes. They gave me the opportunity to explore artistic expression and to cultivate creativity. I’m now 20 and still take studio art classes in college.

I wanted to continue pursuing my interests throughout college, and AFA’s mission most interested me. Not only would I be assisting in developing artistic opportunities to children in New York City, but also be working at an organization that incorporates some of my greatest interests.

AFA: Before becoming an intern at Arts For All, have you been involved with the organization?

RC: I was first introduced to AFA my freshman year through a community-and-service-based art club at NYU, Arts in the Community. In fact, the first club event I attended was with AFA: “The Day of Art” with New Alternatives for Children. My experience at the event was a remarkably positive one; it involved assisting children at various stations including dance, drawing, and arts and crafts. I then became more involved with AFA by volunteering at their annual Barnes and Noble Book Fair and Benefit Concert at Joe’s Pub. Finally here I am—interning at AFA over the summer!

AFA: What’s your favorite piece of art? Be it theatre, a painting, a song…and why?

RC: As an Art History major with a primary interest in painting and sculpture, it’s nearly impossible to pick several favorites, let alone one favorite piece. Narrowing down my selection to those two media, I would perhaps choose a work by 19th-century French painter Gustave Courbet. He went against the grain of societal attitudes towards the artistic expression of the human anatomy, which ultimately fueled his realization of the Realist movement. Amongst his impressive oeuvre of naturalistic large-scaled oil paintings, I particularly appreciate “The Stone Breakers.” It is a genre scene of social realism at the time, depicting two peasants, a young man and an old man, in the act of breaking rocks. Through his highly realistic painting style, he successfully informs viewers of the harsh working conditions of peasant workers in mid-19th-century Europe and attempts to raise awareness and garner help from the masses.

I also particularly appreciate the works of Jan Van Eyck, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Robert Campin, Piet Mondrian, and Keith Haring.

AFA: What do you hope to do after college?

RC: I intend on graduating in the Fall of 2015 with a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Art History and Economics. After college, I envision myself doing curatorial work at a museum or gallery in the city. I may even explore business marketing that involves fine arts. I hope to eventually obtain a Master of Arts degree in Art History.

Gustave_Courbet_-_The_Stonebreakers_-_WGA05457The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet

By Arts For All Intern, Julie DeVito

Over the course of two days, over 500 teaching artists, administrators, parents, nonprofits, school teachers, and more gathered at the City College of New York for the annual Face to Face conference hosted by the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable. NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña delivered the opening Keynote and was introduced by current Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Brewer has said that “we must commit to adequate funding in the arts, understanding that the arts are a discipline unto themselves that nurtures growth, and self esteem as well as active community participation.”

This conference hosted “two days of dynamic conversation about arts in education, with 36 breakout workshops and presentations” on various approaches to arts education (NYCAIE) designed to introduce participants to various approaches that can be taken in providing arts education. Participants were able to attend five workshops over the course of two days. These included “Shakespeare Education in the Age of the Common Core,” “Fostering Resilience Through the Arts,” “Creative Dance as a Catalyst for High School Choreography,” “Exploring and Addressing Common Core Standards Through Dance,” and “Unpacking and Communicating Arts Values for Special Needs Students.”

All of these workshops serve as examples of the variety currently present in arts education in the public schools of NYC, as ways to adapt to the disparities in education being provided in the schools by the schools and certified arts instructors. One of the common threads throughout the workshops and conference was finding ways to assess and document success in these approaches to arts education, something which is quite prevalent in the other academic fields.

One of my favorite workshops was “Fostering Resilience Through the Arts.” This workshop was hosted by members of Counseling in Schools that included Program Director David Kener, Arts Integration Specialist Christina Newbrand, and Drama Therapist Kristen Brookes. After Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Counseling in Schools brought arts and counseling programming to schools in NYC.  In this workshop, participants were divided into groups and through active participation and arts-based activities learned the six Skills for Psychological Recovery. These skills are gathering and assessing, building problem-solving skills, promoting positive activities, managing reactions, promoting helpful thinking, and rebuilding healthy social connections.

Closing remarks at the end of the conference were given by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, who had released only the week before, a report entitled “State of the Arts: A Plan to Boost Arts Education in New York City Schools. The report showed that 28%  if NYC Public Schools lack a full time certified arts teacher.

“The data is very clear,” Stringer said at the conference. “So the question for us is what do we do now? And how do we take reports, and enthusiasm, and activism, and turn it into something that will result in real fundamental change because we don’t want to keep coming back to the same conference. Imagine a two year old who by the time he gets to public school, there’s no more arts education? There’s no more art rooms, there’s no more creativity, there’s none of that. It gets cut off. And imagine if you live in the South Bronx or you live in Central Brooklyn, you have no chance for a robust arts education because the numbers don’t lie. People who live in certain zip codes have a shot at a real arts education, but so many of our kids don’t have that. We should redirect priorities, because if there’s ever a tale of two cities, or a tale of two neighborhoods, it comes down to this arts education work that has to happen. If you put money into arts education, we will have certified arts teachers and we will have art space in the public schools and if we do that, scores will go up, the economy will be strengthened and all of those children that we love so much will have the full New York education that includes a robust and strong arts curriculum.”

By Julie DeVito, Arts For All Intern.

Arts activists push to add Arts instruction to the STEM Movement in Education

There may be good news for supporters of arts education in schools. A new initiative is calling for the integration of arts education into science, technology, engineering and math movement that has already been gaining momentum in the discourse around education reform.  The aspects of art that are being used to push the initiative include design and project-based learning. Although many proponents still believe that sustaining arts education in its own right is important, they argue that it’s also important to look at how art and design can be incorporated into other topics. Although the movement has no specifically defined origin, the Rhode Island School of Design has been championing the initiative since as documented on their site STEM to STEAM.

“Creative thinkers are going to be the next generation of innovators, and arts education really furthers that, and makes sure that we have the next generation of entrepreneurs, of creative thinkers and inventors,” said congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.

Ryan Mather, a student of RISD actively involved in the STEAM initiative, spoke to me about the two most common thought paths of what STEAM actually encompasses. For some, STEAM is not STEAM unless it incorporates all of the aspects including Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math. But for RISD, and many other proponents, the movement is about interdisciplinary integration in learning. For him, the application of the STEAM initiative for elementary aged students is the integration of the arts into the already existing classes.

“You might not necessarily have a separate arts class, but you might be happening to do art in all your other classes,” Mather said. “So in that respect it does provide a way for schools that are cutting arts programs to still have art be a valuable part of their education. But from a practical standpoint it is a solution that some districts need to use because they can’t make time for arts, which is kind of unfortunate.”
Although the future of STEAM in legislation in still unsure, RISD and other STEAM supporters have made progress in the last year. On February 14, 2013, the Bi-partisan House STEAM Caucus was formed and RISD hosted the launch in DC in cooperation with the Caucus Co-Chairs Suzanne Bonamici and Aaron Schock. As of December 2013, there were 54 members with representation from 24 states. Schools around the country are already beginning to integrate STEAM into their curricula, including MS 534 in Brooklyn where students participated in a pilot STEAM program where students used science to build their own cameras and then learned photography.

At Arts For All, we are working towards a world in which all children have access to artistic opportunities, whether it is through integration into the core subjects such as STEAM encourages, or on it’s own. At Arts For All, we integrate the arts into the common core already through our Literacy Through the Arts program. We believe that access to the arts helps children gain self-confidence, self-expression, and the ability to work in teams as well as be better prepared to face life challenges and opportunities.

Here’s a recent article from,  by Suzi Parker, that features Arts For All’s Haiku Program.

Well Versed: Why Teaching Poetry Matters

In this era of short attention spans and 40-word tweets, poetry may be the ideal vehicle for enticing students to learn.

(Photo: Helen Rushbrook/Getty Images)

April 19, 2014 By

Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

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In classrooms across the country, Emily Southerton witnesses the magic of poetry and its ability to transform kids.

As Teach for America’s digital initiative specialist, Southerton is part of the organization’s Poet Warriors Project, a nationwide program that helps kids write and publish poetry on tough issues they face, such as poverty, gangs, and peer pressure. The idea is to generate positive changes in their lives. More than 50 classrooms around the country, and more than 2,500 students, have written for it.

“Poetry ignites students to think about what it’s like to share their opinion, be heard, and make a difference in their world,” Southerton said. “Students can let go of traditional writing rules with poetry. I tell the kids the most important thing about poetry is that people feel differently after reading it.”

For centuries, poetry has enlightened students in classrooms and, yes, occasionally bored them to tears. In 1996, the Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month; it’s held in April, “when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture,” according to its website.

Literature teacher Andrew Simmons lamented, in a recent story for The Atlantic, that many schools no longer teach poetry and that it often gets a bad rap for being boring.  He wrote: “In an education landscape that dramatically deemphasizes creative expression in favor of expository writing and prioritizes the analysis of non-literary texts, high school literature teachers have to negotiate between their preferences and the way the wind is blowing. That sometimes means sacrifice, and poetry is often the first head to roll.”

Simmons, however, said that teachers shouldn’t shy away from poetry because it can help students become more versed in writing and literature. He’s not alone. Throughout the country, teachers and academics say that poetry should be a curriculum priority in English classes.

“Writing poetry remains one of the best tools we have for knowing what we think and what we really feel,” said Anna Marie Hong, a published poet and a visiting writer at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. “Writing provides a way for us to process experience, which is often difficult for young adults, to understand it better, to connect our lives with the experiences of others, and to change events through this new understanding.”

Schools and programs are striving to expose students in every grade to poetry and not just during the month of April.

In New York, P.S. 163, a public school in the Bronx, launched a haiku program last fall for second graders that brought to life the haiku of Sydell Rosenberg, a public school teacher, an ESL teacher, and a published American haiku poet who lived in New York City before her death in 1996. The haiku program, which continued this spring, was led by Arts for All, a nonprofit in New York City that offers accessible artistic opportunities to inner-city children who face socioeconomic, physical, or emotional barriers to exploring the arts.

Resident artist Vidho Lorville led six visual arts workshops that used Rosenberg’s haiku as a teaching tool. The students painted landscapes inspired by the short poems. Students drew and colored animals that were mentioned in the haiku and then put them on scenic backgrounds. The children were taught that they should see haiku and poetry everywhere and then turn those moments into poetry by writing down their thoughts and creating art.

“I am neither a teacher nor a poet, but I think children need poetry in their lives—poetic language that engages them…words that can open up worlds and help them not just to ‘see’ and to imagine in a heightened way but to interpret what they see artistically,” Amy Losak, Rosenberg’s daughter, says. “Every observation, no matter how seemingly mundane or ‘small,’ can be turned into a haiku poem, and the images conjured or captured in haiku can be ‘translated’ into a highly personal piece of art. The art the kids create brings the words to tangible life.”

The Poet Warriors Project gives students from low-income neighborhoods an outlet through which their voices can be heard about the issues that affect them.

Langston HughesCarl Sandburg, and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote for their communities and wrote for the purpose of the nation hearing about their communities,” Southerton says. “Not just for the joys of writing, but they had the drive to change the national dialogue. They try to imitate that and try to speak for their communities honestly.”

The project’s website publishes poems by students, including many in ESL classes; it also offers National Poetry Month activities and a year-round curriculum for teachers.

In this era of short attention spans and 40-word tweets, poetry may very well be the ideal vehicle for enticing students to learn.

“The fact is that poems are short to read, and that makes it less intimidating to read  and write one,” Southerton says. “The shortness is something that students really, really connect to. We’ve had an overwhelming positive response. So many students have said they feel like a writer and also see what their purpose is in life. They say, ‘I am a person who has something to say to the world.’ ”

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.