During times when the entire world is suffering, many organizations are doing their part in making sure their communities have access to what they need. Some are specifically catering to children as the quick change of standard practices have heavily impacted children throughout the Chicagoland area.
SkyART, a South Side art center, is delivering art kits and hosting virtual therapy to underprivileged children and young adults in the lowest income neighborhoods in Chicago.
Established in 2001, SkyART is the only free and openly accessible art center in Chicago that typically caters to more than 3,000 kids and young adults that experience trauma and do not usually have access to art learning or materials through CPS or at home. More than 90% of participants identify as people of color, and the median household income in the neighborhoods served by SkyART is $29,582. At SkyART, children have unlimited access to art supplies, computers, and mentors.
In an interview with Sarah Ward, the executive director, and founder, she expressed how SkyART came to be. Ward started an art therapy program in juvenile court in 1998, working in environments where kids were underprivileged or sexually abused. Ward says,
“I would go to a house with a kid that had been sexually abused or had committed a crime, and they had their brothers and sisters asking me if they can do art with me. So I had to figure out a way to make an impact in the neighborhood without being the problem. I just wanted to be there for them.”
Now over 19 years later, SkyArt has been a drop-in facility for kids on the south side to come in and freely express themselves through art.
“Kids come, and we supply a mixture of art supplies, and we have art teachers and the kids do what they desire. It becomes a beautiful space where they decide what they want to do. Some teachers might be teaching sculptures, another drawing, and another sewing, and the kids can choose just what they want to create. It is a break from the school structure where they are told what to do every day and all day.
It was no surprise that Sarah’s first thought was to give back to the kids in her community once the pandemic hit. With the facility being closed, Sarah wanted the kids to have a sense of the facility still and, in a way, give them that safe, supportive environment where they could express themselves.
“I looked around the studio and thought we have all of these supplies. Honestly, for our families, having art supplies is like the least of their worries, especially during a pandemic. Still, I started thinking about the kids and how they are going to be in their homes with nothing to do, so we put together these packages to give them a feeling of being in our space and so that they can get creative.”
Based on a survey of SkyArts families, many do not have access to the internet or devices, and most have only one mobile device. Children have a break from the daily stresses of confinement brought on by the pandemic by receiving and using an Art Supply kit. It also gives the children a sense of accomplishment as their skills develop.
SkyART first gave away packages to over fifty kids straight from their facility within minutes. Most of these were families who had already been a part of the organization. Because of the large number of package requests, they decided that it would be the safest to begin delivering them. They have now collaborated with Chicago Hopes, who services ten shelters around the city for families experiencing homelessness, giving them 350 packages, and working with the Merrill Adams Center on the westside. From there, people have continuously reached out for art kits.
When possible, SkyArt also does one-on-one virtual art therapy sessions, which are led by registered art therapists or an artistic person with a therapeutic master’s degree. These sessions allow a child to speak openly and express difficult-to-process emotions through their artwork. Virtual group sessions are also available, giving a sense of community and establishing friendships during the pandemic’s isolation.
You can find out more about SkyArt or donate to the organization by visiting their website skyart.org.