by Jeslyn Lemke & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ee that kid with the paintbrush? The girl at the pottery wheel? The brilliantly colored mobiles swaying above the hands that made them? Now take a step back. The clamor of domestic violence, poverty and alcohol abuse -- the sheer screaming pace of today's society -- are all raging right outside the door of the Art on the Edge building.
Now step back in.
"I see a lot of rage in kids today, and there should be a way to release that," says Jim Baumgartner, one of the two art instructors for the Coeur d'Alene-based nonprofit subsidiary of St. Vincent de Paul. The program offers free after-school art classes and open studios to children (ages 6-18), many of whom are homeless or come from broken homes.
Inside waits a peaceful scene of spinning pottery wheels, cans of bright paint, and long reams of stark blank paper, ready for the turbulent unleashing of all the tensions and joys of being a kid in America.
Is this some form of art therapy? Heck, yeah.
"It gives the kids a way to release some of that tension. 'You learn this, and it'll be with you forever. You sit down and you draw it out, just get out the frustrations,'" says Baumgartner.
The unrestrictive atmosphere of the classes is also therapeutic. This allows children to indulge in their own personalities and agendas rather than being whirled around by a harsh school environment. When the paint hits the paper at Art on the Edge, relaxation, self-expression, and empowerment are all key ingredients sloshing around in the can.
OK, so the terms "self-expression" and "empowerment" may look a little vague at this point. But in 1996, the first 30 Art on the Edge kids gathered and started stitching, writing and hammering. Over a period of eight months, those young'uns produced an entire puppet show all by themselves, complete with puppets, props, set, scripts, music, and dance -- the whole works. The performance was phenomenal, but in the eyes of Art on the Edge director and founder Ali Shute, the scene afterward was the most powerful. "I will never forget watching those children walking around with these puffed-out chests, just feeling so darn good about themselves," she says.
The good stuff didn't end there, though. The success of the puppet show was an eye-opener for the staff of Art on the Edge; it inspired them to expand the program and to make it available to more of the community. Today, one of the children in that puppet show is walking around with a degree from North Idaho College in art and with a specialization in music, partly because he was so inspired by his experiences with Art on the Edge. Other children have gone on to pursue college degrees as well or to be accepted into high-profile academic programs.
As a result, what was once just a little subsidiary program of St. Vincent de Paul is now causing swirls in the Coeur d'Alene community. Bubbling at the program's core are visions of problem solving, goal setting, community values and increased self-esteem.
"I think we're going to see more of our [Art on the Edge] children grow up to reach a little further and look a little deeper into what they see the significance of their life being," says Shute. "My hope is that we will have children who are not held prisoner by the paths of their parents -- that they will choose their own paths and make their own lives what they want them to be."
For more information, visit www.artontheedge.org or call (208) 676-0917.