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Taking art across Arkansas

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Ann Camps recalls her conversation with a Pine Bluff woman she was traveling with to a National Governors Association meeting some years back. The woman had had five children by the time she was 21. She told Camps that her oldest daughter wanted to be in the school orchestra, but she’d told her no. Why? asked Camps. Because, the woman answered, everybody knows black girls can’t play the violin.

That’s the kind of thing, Camps said, “that makes me crazy.” If someone in the family had seen a black violinist — had that cultural opportunity — the child would have played. But if you can’t see things in someone else, how can you envision them for yourself?

The Clinton Foundation and the Thea Foundation have launched a project to make sure kids can see fine art, and see themselves as artists. The project, Art Across Arkansas, is sending art donated to the foundations to 67 schools in Pulaski County, and hopes to expand that to the entire state. Delivery of the work has begun; 12 schools have gotten the art, displayed in cases being built by Bylites Inc. The cases make a showy presentation — the work, a statement by the artist and a biography of the artist, is suspended between two six-foot columns — that let the kids know how important art is.

Camps, who works with the Clinton Foundation, was overwhelmed by the welcome she and the Thea representatives got at the first school to which work was delivered — Lynch Drive Elementary. The children studied the landscape quietly, even reverently, she said; parents turned out for the occasion; the school staff was thrilled. There was a sense of “awe and respect,” Camps said, that she could not have imagined.

Art Across Arkansas was the idea of the Thea Foundation, created by Clinton friend Paul Leopoulos to honor his late daughter by promoting art and art education. It’s picking up expenses and applying for grants and other funding to keep the program going. The Clinton Foundation is helping oversee the project, taking applications from schools and meeting with artists.

Foundation spokesman Jordan Johnson said Clinton was excited about the project. When a reporter raised an eyebrow, Camps joined in. “He’s dead serious,” she said. The president’s involvement “is a fact.” He wants to give the children “something beautiful to look at,” Camps said, get them thinking about things they never thought about before. That you can grow up to be an artist. A black violinist. Even president of the United States of America.

The children of Arkansas are lucky, Camps said. The United States flag flies next to a picture of a fellow Arkansan on their schoolroom walls. They can see it’s possible for an Arkansan to become president, she said, “because it’s already happened.”


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