In a response to the escalation of gang violence during the 2006-2007 school year, the City of Santa Barbara has tried funding after-school activities for kids who might otherwise get involved with gangs. Now, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art has joined up with the Santa Barbara Police Activities League (PAL) to start an after-school program that nurtures kids’ artistic creativity and gives them a sense of belonging and accomplishment.

Most of the students involved in the program are from five designated low-income elementary schools in Santa Barbara and have been involved in A-OK After School art programs. Each ten-week trimester focuses primarily on working with fifth- and sixth-graders in order to make an impact that will stick with them into junior high and beyond. “It’s really important to get kids while we have them as a captive audience before junior high and then we try and keep them in programs through junior high,” said PAL coordinator Brian Kerr. “From our stand point so far it’s been a tremendous success.”

PAL provides quality educational, athletic, and cultural programs and tries to install in them a positive relationship with the police and community members. PAL is also highly involved in identifying interested elementary school kids and is the main source of funding for the programming. Classes are held after school Monday through Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House at 1600 Santa Barbara Street. “I think that the program would help get kids off the streets because if they get involved in art and start to like it, I think they would be less likely to get involved in a gang,” said =Jamie Sanchez, a Santa Barbara High School senior.

The students will be producing artwork like self-portraits, book art, mapping, and even clothing designs that will be featured on November 3 in the Museum of Art’s “Identities” collection. The public will be able to view the student’s artwork at the museum for free on Dia de Los Muertos on October 28 and will be able to do so again on Chinese New Year, February 10. “The goals of this program are to introduce students to the elements of art, to expose them to a variety of styles and media, to increase their confidence as artists and as museum-goers, and to extend that sense of comfort and belonging to their families,” states Patsy Hicks, the art museum’s assistant director of education. Allowing them add to the “Identities” collection presents a perfect opportunity to help these kids gain a sense of self, Hicks said, by encouraging them to create art that helps them find their own identity and study higher level art that also captures the idea of identity. “We really want to show the kids that museum’s aren’t just for rich people,” Kerr said.

Helping to nurture these young artists talents are students from Santa Barbara High School’s Visual Art and Design Academy (VADA), which is also a place of artistic growth for more advanced teenage artists. Many of the assistants from VADA are bilingual and aid instructors as teachers and role models for the elementary school kids and receive community service hours that are a requirement for all graduating seniors in the Santa Barbara School District. For those who seeking a career in art, the high school students also get work experience in curating and installing.

The art program is also insistent in getting families involved in their student’s interest in art. The program concludes with a trip to the Museum of Art and a reception for the families. Free transportation will be provided by PAL for students and parents who have limited resources.

“We hope that this first introduction to art and museums will lead to a life-long engagement,” Hicks said.


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