Art Expression Inc. has been named a finalist for the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its partner agencies, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“It’s the highest honor that an out-of-school program can get. We are thrilled,” said Angela Lowden, founder and president of Art Expression.
If Art Expression wins, “It will help us reach more children in need. We are so honored to be chosen again this year,” Lowden said.
Organizations from 46 states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories competed for the 50 finalist spots.
Art Expression Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in Mt. Lebanon whose mission is “to facilitate positive socialization through expressive art activities and provide academic enrichment in an inclusive educational environment.”
Its after-school programs are offered free to students and focus on developing their social skills through art. The programs are offered in school districts, homeless shelters and community organizations throughout the area. Two Washington County school district, Trinity Area and Charleroi Area, are involved with Art Expression.
“We have a far reach,” Lowden said. “We serve 1,000 children a year in schools and homeless shelters.”
The organization relies on grants, as well as funding provided by the school districts. Lowden founded Art Expression in 2001.
“Art has always helped me,” she said. “I had many challenges as a young person, and art always helped me to be able to communicate with others, calm myself and help me with my confidence and communication skills.”
Lowden has a degree in education from Duquesne and a degree in art from the Art Institute.
“When my son was young, I observed him and his peers and I felt a program like this was needed, where all children could be included, especially those who had issues with social skills,” Lowden said.
She presented her idea to the Mt. Lebanon School Board, which approved it, and the program was piloted in Mt. Lebanon schools. It soon had a waiting list.
Students in the Trinity and Charleroi school districts have enjoyed Art Expression’s programs for the last four years.
“I remember one incident with a boy in Trinity,” Lowden said. “He was transferring to another school, and he loved the program so much that he had his parents bring him back so he could finish the class.”
Trinity Area art teacher Pam Oliverio remembers a particular student who did not have a filter, and at times the other students would get annoyed with him.
“During the sharing part of the (Art Expression) session, I noticed him being so attentive to the other students,“ she said. “He asked appropriate questions and showed a kindness I had never seen before. It was an experience I do not think would have happened in a regular art class setting.”
Programs are available after school one day a week for six to eight weeks, and include Creative pARTners, Musical pARTners, From the HeART, ARTchitecture: Building Bridges, ARTmosphere: Weather and others. They are taught by graduate-level art therapy students, music therapists and/or art therapists with master’s degrees in conjunction with school district or agency staff.
“When students voluntarily stay after school for art, the entire dynamics change,” said Charleroi Area art teacher Michael Flaherty. “Everyone is creating and exchanging ideas without fear of being judged. All of the petty behaviors that occur during the regular day, like bullying and tattle-tale, completely stop during Art Expression. It’s as close to art utopia as you can get.”
If selected as one of the 12 awardees, Art Expression will receive $10,000, an invitation to the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., and an invitation to participate in the 14th annual NAHYP Awardee Conference, also in Washington, D.C.
“Arts enrichment programs are very important to youth development, and we would certainly like to see opportunities for youth continue through art opportunities for students,” Lowden said.
For more information about Art Expression Inc., visit www.artexpressioninc.org.