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ARTree makes a mark on kids

Program gives kids an introduction to the arts in an attempt to give them a creative outlet

Posted: July 19, 2010 1:18 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2010 1:18 p.m.

Young children play various instruments used in a salsa ensemble to create their own beats during performance and visual classes for kids at the Newhall Community Center on June 30. The exhibit was put on by the ARTree, an organization that would like to have the Community Center offering classes, exhibits, performances and art education for chi...

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Eight young kids sat peacefully with their eyes closed as teachers Paula Dwyer and Dianne Foderaro asked them to visualize trees in their minds - every detail, form the roots in the ground to the clouds in the sky.

Minutes later, the kids scrambled over to stacks of wallpaper samples, tearing the samples into small pieces to create those trees they envisioned as collages.

These creative pieces were some of the first to come out of the Art Tree, an organization aimed at inspiring artistry in local youth.

Every Wednesday evening this summer, this group of 7 to 13 year-olds converge at the Newhall Community Center to explore both visual and performance art.

Founders of the Art Tree hope to give these kids a creative outlet. Many of the kids would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore the arts outside of school. And even in school, organization founders said, there are limitations.

Art Tree roots

It started with a seedling of an idea in the head of Valencia resident Bob Hernandez. Having just been laid off, the California Institute of the Arts alumnus delved into a slew of community arts events. He noticed something was missing.

"It was amazing to me that in a community of 177,000 people there was no community arts center" Hernandez said.

At a think-tank meeting, Santa Clarita's Arts and Events Supervisor, Jeff Barber, asked Hernandez: "how can we introduce the arts to Santa Clarita?"

For Hernandez the answer was simple-the children.

"Kids are the kindling because kids are not polluted with cell phones and texting," he said. "They are wonderful, innocent souls-they are like little sponges."

He e-mailed all the artists he knew asking if they would be willing to donate time or money to a community arts project. With an overwhelmingly positive response the seed was planted.

He then participated in the Festival of the Arts. He enlisted the help of some local kids to make a tree out of recycled bottles.

Passersby were enthusiastic about his idea and The Art Tree began to sprout.

'Can-do Attitude'

The Art Tree continues to grow as Hernandez spreads his enthusiasm for the project.

Barber, who is now on the board of The Art Tree, said Hernandez is known to have two-hour coffee meetings with people who want to get involved.

"One of the important things early on is we want the right people," Barber said. "People with a can-do attitude."

They are trying to offer something organic that isn't bound by state standards and is less structured than school curriculums, Barber said.

"We are freer to present an activity and let the kids do what they feel like with that activity" he said.

Hernandez and the others hope the Art Tree will soon have a means to offer classes to anyone. But first they'd like to have a center where it can all come to life.

Use of a small building on Railroad Avenue was recently donated by local residents Tim and Laurie Crissman along with their partners, Joe Caso and Mack Middleton.

Founders and board members have visited several community arts centers in downtown Los Angeles, Ventura, Pasadena and other cities for inspiration.

Hernandez said he sees a center in the middle of downtown Newhall fitting nicely with the city's redevelopment plan for the area; the library will be at one end and the Art Tree will be at the other. The two will almost be the bookends of Old Town Newhall, Hernandez said.

"To have a home base facility location within the city of Santa Clarita," is the goal said Barber.

"So we have a presence, a nice sized building with a variety of classrooms, some of them soundproof so we can do music" he said.

‘Express yourself'

This summer, the organization is hosting an eight-week-long summer program taught by local artists and teachers at the Newhall Community Center.

Art Tree members have also been working with groups of teens, some of whom have left behind lives of gang involvement and tagging. Some of the teens will help paint a mural in Newhall, while others work on a mural timeline of Newhall's history.

Instructors volunteer their time and specialized expertise to the youth involved in Art Tree. Some of them, like musician and Cal Arts alumnus Alfredo Miranda, come every week.

"I dig it! This is where it's at for me, teaching kids about the arts and the music is the most rewarding thing," he said.

The kids are also enthusiastic about the program, which gives them a little sampling of different art forms.

"I come to the center because it's a good art class and you can have fun," said Jose Hernandez, 14.

Starting in September the Art Tree will be conducting classes at the Activities Center at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex.

For Sky-Island Thomas, 11, the classes have been more than she ever expected, and she has already recommended them to her friends. She signed up because she likes to dance hip-hop. Not only has she been able to practice other types of dance, she has also put her creativity to use in other art forms.

"It's fun and you can express yourself," she said while gluing down pieces of wallpaper. "I like this because you can explore more things."

mgasca@the-signal.com

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