One of my memorable projects from High School required us to use free NYC subway-maps as our canvas. Having the freedom to experiment with our own ideas and aesthetics allowed for a diverse and inspirational class presentation. I have two of my favorite projects from my high school years saved, they hold beautiful memories and serve as a reminder that creativity exist in all of us.
A majority of public school students in America don’t have access to art programs. The ongoing financial cuts in the school system have forced the cancellation of many “extra-curricular” activities. I still miss learning tae kwon do and art class with professor Iman. These classes not only made school exciting but they also provided the life lessons math and science courses couldn’t. Students were free to express themselves without having to follow a uniform path of problem solving, we got to discover new interests and a sense of discovery.
I recently was introduced via social media to Time in Kids, an inspirational art initiative organization devoted to bringing back the arts to our future generation. Founded by Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène, a devoted advocate with an immense background within the arts and education. Her innovated approach to interdisciplinary teaching combine music, literature and visual arts suited in a way to keep children from pre-K up to 5th grade engage and curious for more. Even though the art programs have been slashed from the majority of schools in the system, the inner cities minority and impoverished students are the ones being affected the most. This is where the work and devotion from Time in Kids comes into place.
“Time In’ vibrant, interdisciplinary arts initiative ensures that undeserved children, who would otherwise have no access to services of this quality, receive the material knowledge and positive reinforcement that they need to become both effective and knowledgeable creators, as well as engaged, responsible and thoughtful participants in a larger democracy.”
During our visit the kids were working on a cool superflat art mural inspired by a recent art gallery visit to Mr.’s Sunset in My Heart Exhibition at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery. It was a fun Friday afternoon where I got to meet some of the kids, instructors and was able to learn more about the organization during my chat with Cyndie.
Tell us about Time in Kids.
The Time in Children’s Art Initiative has been transforming the lives and learning of way some of New York City’s youngest and most at-risk public elementary school children from Harlem and the South Bronx since 2006. Kids learn whole operas through hands-on art, go out on gallery hops and museum visits to the most important contemporary art shows all over the city, participate in fantastic literacy and live performance activities – all of which are combined (as part of the school day) into a beautifully curated, arts-enriched education for children who could never otherwise have this quality of opportunity. Equality, Opportunity, Access: Every week, every year for kids from PK-Grade 5.
Talk us through a day at the program. What activities and experiences can kids look forward to?
On an average day, we delve into an opera or a ballet, taking it apart – scene by scene – through hands-on art. The kids work side by side with some of the city’s most up-and-coming artists each kid in their own large-sized mixed-media sketchbook, tons of paint, pastels, collage, an abundance of materials, lots of glitter. For our older students – grade 3 and up — we have Arty Readers: it uses highly technical sequential drawing techniques based on the popular Japanese art of manga and their opera study combines drawing with creative writing and reading. Arty Readers allows kids to excel academically and be super invested in their work – because they create it! In a social-emotionally supportive arts-enriched environment, of course, and then every few weeks, we visit some of the most important galleries and museums in the city. It gets kids out of their schools and out of their neighborhoods and integrated into the bigger vista of the city as a whole. It’s a very powerful experience for kids who don’t have a lot of mobility.
What pursued you to initiate this program?
Time In grew out of HiArt!, a private art program that I created for my 2-year old daughter in 1997. As HiArt! evolved, it became a kind of teaching laboratory, exploring all the ways that the living arts-most importantly opera and the contemporary visual arts-could be shared with children. It was like a mini-MFA program for kids. HiArt! became the go-to program for so many of the most distinguished New York families; from David Bowie, Hugh Jackman, Mort Zuckerman, Annie Liebovitz, Inez & Vinoodh, LA & Erica Reid-and so many others, as well as families who came from as far away as China, Japan, Chile, Switzerland, and France. It was a place where children were treated with dignity: art and music weren’t dumbed down, and children rejoiced at the chance to play joyously in an arts-filled world. The idea was to have a space where children would be equal by virtue of their creativity and curiosity. Art was the common denominator and children from incredibly diverse backgrounds grew together and thrived.
I always gave scholarships to parents who found me so that every kid who wanted to could participate. But it soon became clear that an overwhelming number of children had no one to advocate for them. Kids like the ones we work with now; living in domestic violence, homeless shelters, subsidized housing. Their parents were not saying, “My kid needs opera,” They were saying, “Where am I sleeping tonight…” The only way to share this incredible work with them was to make sure that kids could have it without cost and without relying on their parents’ to make it happen. I wanted to make sure that every kid could come and have equal access—that’s so important. We tend to pigeonhole kids, girls this, boys, that. But some of greatest ballet lovers, for instance, are boys! I also wanted to make sure that just because the kids were poor, that we weren’t making a reduced quality program. I wanted to ensure that the kids I was working with had the same quality of opportunity as all the wealthy and celeb kids that I was working with in the private program. If it was good enough for my daughter, and gave her amazing skills and opportunities, then it should be available to all kids.
What’s your goal for this art initiative?
Nothing too small: To change the face of education and to make the arts a part of the lives of every child in America. The arts – as a 10-year-old recently said to me – are not just about painting. They’re so much more. They’re a way of speaking, communicating. They hark backwards to children’s very connected forms of play and forward to highly conceptual thinking. Making and thinking about the arts – the way Time In does it – help us understand each other better. Opera ‘N Art broadens our world; it gives us opportunities to work together harmoniously because we are each making something in which we are personally invested. Last year we had almost 800 kids, this year we would love to serve 1100. And then more and more kids in schools and neighborhoods where this kind of enriched learning is otherwise out of reach. To do that we will need to work with major donors, caring corporations and larger foundations. We want to give kids the tools they need to flourish, thrive and hope. Kids need to know that the world is a bigger place and that not only do they BELONG to it, but they have something fabulous to share with it. That’s a radical departure for kids in under-resourced communities, knowing that they really count. The arts radiate possibility.
Why is art so important for the future generations?
The arts bind us to each other as humans. They are a secret language that we use to tell each other about ourselves, very profound things, a kind of code. Whether it’s the sound of our voice, or a painting or installation, or a musical interaction or a play or a film — art invites us to be part of something. The arts are the opposite of alienation. David Rubenstein recently gave a talk in the David Rockefeller lecture series and talked about how the arts tie us to our history and our shared culture. They ground us in the universal. Art gives children a place to go, a way to master and understand the world around them. It gives them friends – imaginary friends and real friends – and in the case of the children I work with, children who live in domestic violence and homeless shelters, who struggle with poverty and instability, art – opera – literature and the transmission of those art forms from person to person – are a talisman. Art is magic; it is the charm that makes a broken life whole and productive. Art is the secret passkey, giving children the tools and permission to shine now and in the future.
Do you feel art related extra-curriculum programs should be as essential as liberal art courses in the education system?
The arts are absolutely vital for our education system. The extraordinary model that we have developed over the past 10 years has changed the tenor of entire Harlem and South Bronx schools and has been cited by the NEA as a program to examine as a model for arts education in the US. Harlem principal, Natasha Spann of PS 197, a feeder for 5 domestic violence shelters said at a benefit for Time In at Hauser & Wirth, “This program has transformed my school and my community.” Time In creates a space in which the children are given unlimited scope for inspiration and freedom. It’s time to stop thinking about the arts as “extra-curricular.” They are totally curricular. That’s why Time In happens every week as part of the school day. And its incredible impact on children’s learning, engagement, self-confidence and creativity makes every other subject 1000x more accessible. Smart art, smart kids.
In what way has the art market been supportive of this initiative?
Galleries have been amazing to us. This year, Marc Payot and the Directors at Hauser & Wirth stepped up to the plate and hosted our annual benefit – Changing the World through Art – it was over the top extraordinary. I can’t thank them enough. We have a long history of gallery and artist involvement – in the past we did beautiful art auctions at Haunch of Venison, Marianne Boesky and Nancy Hoffman. So many internationally renowned artists donated and were present. So important, too, is the support we get from some of the world’s leading musicians. NY Philharmonic Principal Clarinet, Anthony McGill and Metropolitan Opera star, Ailyn Perez, are both on our Advisory Board. They make time in their incredibly busy schedules to visit the kids, share their talents at our events and use their influence to help us support the program.
How can people get involved with or help Time In Kids?
First and foremost, people can help by donating www.timeinkids.org/donate. No contribution is too small or too large. It’s a way of saying that you care about changing the way this world works. And that other people’s kids are important to you and to us. Then follow us actively on social media. We need to spread the word. Time In has a different way of doing things, and people need to know about it. You can find us at Facebook.com/TimeInKids, Twitter.com/TimeInKids and Instagram @TimeInKids and we are constantly posting updates and pictures from our daily lessons. The more people who know and understand what we do, the more money we can raise to help kids. And, of course, you can volunteer for us! By working with kids, helping in the office, consulting for us in things like marketing, grant writing, and fundraising. You can throw an event for us. We also have a fabulous Board of Directors and a Junior Board. If you’re really serious about helping, there’s always something to do!
To learn more about Time In Kids, donate or to find out more ways to get involve, visit timeinkids.org/
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