Were it not for a global pandemic, Tricia Brancolini-Foley and Kate McGrady may never have launched Art4All Pittsburgh.
Both already lead bustling arts organizations. Tricia is the executive director of Handmade Arcade, while Kate directs Artsmiths of Pittsburgh, and both organizations offered full schedules of in-person programming before the wave of coronavirus closures.
Everything changed in mid-March, when quarantine swept the region. Seemingly overnight, the creative needs of learners and communities changed. While Kate and Tricia grappled with a deep sense of loss, they also saw a need for new ways to make and create. With groups no longer able to attend summer maker camps or art classes, there was a distinct need for creative coping and expression at home.
With that, Art4All Pittsburgh was born.
Making Art at Home More Accessible
Art4All distributes free kits with everything a young person needs to make one complete craft project (though some materials may be reusable, like crayons or glue sticks). Kits come complete with materials and instructions, all packaged in a ready-to-go bag.
Projects are designed to be low cost and not overly complex, so children and families can work through them together. While projects might be soothingly simple, they aren’t simplistic; they are also designed to support social-emotional and interdisciplinary learning for young people.
One of Art4All’s initial projects, a journal kit, helps children document and process life in quarantine (or other emotionally complex life events) through writing, collage, drawing, and other artistic modes.
Upcoming kits will incorporate life science, like the “Grow A Tree” seed kit developed in partnership with Tree Pittsburgh, while others will incorporate genealogy, history, and more.
Tricia and Kate also wanted to distribute kits in an efficient and scalable way that maximized access across neighborhoods—and didn’t compete with the efforts of other pandemic services already underway. So, they looked to school lunch distribution.
Leveraging existing relationships, they established connections with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania and Brentwood School District. These ties enabled them to give out nearly 300 kits during their first round of distribution in April and May. Now, they’re exploring additional partnerships with Pittsburgh CitiParks and Hello Neighbor, an organization that supports recently resettled refugees in Pittsburgh.
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This morning, @art4allpgh delivered “Let’s Grow a Kentucky Coffee Tree” kit created by @treepgh to @bgcwpa. This kit was added to a larger activity called “Growing Hope” – a wellness and vegetable delivery – being distributed by the Boys & Girls Club of Western PA. Supporting its mission of Collaboration + Creativity + Positive Social Action, Art4All PGH is excited to work with community partners who share our desire to inspire kids to get creative while learning something new. Art4AllPgh is a collaborative project between #handmadearcade and #artsmithsofpittsburgh Find out more on the website (link in bio) #art4allpittsburgh #art4allpgh #treepittsburgh #boysandgirlsclubofwesternpa #grow
Hands-On Supports High-Tech
In a time when increased remote learning is highlighting long-existing inequities in technology and connectivity for low-income learners and learners of color, Art4All’s consciously low-tech kits also help make them more accessible to more children.
At the same time, it helps those who may be coping with excessive amounts of screen time log off and disconnect—something that’s been gaining traction around the world during the pandemic.
In addition, hands-on projects help all learners build skills that apply to, yet transcend, today’s technological world. Making and creating helps develop adaptive thinking, critical reasoning, and creative thinking, all vital abilities for young people who will, when they reach adulthood, be using tech that’s only a twinkle in the eye of today’s laptops and 3D printers.
After an initial wave of kit making and distribution, Kate and Tricia are preparing for expanded Art4All efforts this summer and beyond. Sourcing kit materials is a top priority, through either in-kind or monetary donations (they’re in the process of setting up a restricted fund and online giving site for this purpose).
They’re also looking forward to engaging with volunteers, including families and students looking for activities in the wake of canceled summer plans and programs.
As they move forward, they also have clear goals for the project’s scalability and longevity.
The last thing they want, they say, is for this to be a one-and-done project. Art4All is rooted in community action and activism, and they’re encouraging other communities and organizations around the region to start their own Art4All. From classrooms to clubs to families, it’s something anyone can start, and they will happily share what they’ve learned with other organizers.
Like their own effort, it just takes a little heart, and a little art, to get started.