A teacher reads, “A happy school of little fish lived in a corner of the sea somewhere” from the book “Swimmy” by Leo Lionni. When the story ends, the children are eager to put their art supplies to use. As one young boy lacquers paint onto a recycled bottle to complete his “bottle fish,” an older girl sitting next to him stamps fish patterns onto her “seascape” portrait. These kids aren’t in a classroom; rather, they’re at Mitchell Park participating in Artists Working in Education’s mobile art program.
Celebrating its 13th summer, AWE is again sending its “truck studio” program into Milwaukee neighborhoods through Aug. 5. The AWE program travels to 19 Milwaukee park and playground sites, offering free take-away art activities for children ages 4 to 14 each weekday afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m.
Eighteen professional artists, art educators and art students pilot AWE’s “Fleet of Imagination”—four brightly-painted vans stocked with projects and art supplies. Each van visits a park or playground every day for one to two weeks. Children are invited to capture their creativity through painting, sculpture, fabric arts, recyclables, wearable art and more.
This year, the program is focused on integrating literacy with the art lessons, according to Laura Dorow, AWE lead teacher. Each lesson begins with the reading of a book, followed by a discussion of the characters to provide children with a starting point for their artwork.
“We let the kids pick which characters they relate to,” Dorow said. “It gives them a visual for when we start the art projects that correlate with the story.”
The AWE teachers hope to show the children that reading can be useful for more than just English homework, said AWE teacher Jeanette Arellano.
“Literacy never goes away,” she said. “We want them to remember how they applied literacy to art this summer so they can use it later on.”
In addition to the literacy theme, each lesson has an art-related focus, such as pattern, texture or color. The teachers also try to incorporate themes linked to traditional art, famous artists and techniques, according to Arellano.
With such themes, children ages 4 to 14 are all able to benefit from the program. Younger children can work independently on projects that improve their basic motor skills, while older children can focus more on the specific details of the art, Arellano said.
“I plan ways to challenge older kids and meet the needs of younger kids too,” Dorow said.
Parent Siru Sandoval said he has brought his daughter Journee, age 5, to the program at the Mitchell Park wading pool every day since it began June 27. He said he will continue to bring her back because he believes Journee is greatly benefiting from the program.
“It’s a great, great thing to have knowledge of the arts,” Sandoval said. “Art and music open up different parts of your mind that kids need to be more exposed to.”
Dorow said the mind-opening experience is exactly what AWE aims for.
“We want to give [kids] experiences with art in their community instead of with art that’s isolated in museums or schools,” Dorow said. “We hope it can lead them to future steps in art and creativity.”