The arts are consistently, ruthlessly and unconscientiously being cut from the public school system's scope. Teachers, parents and concerned citizens bemoan the increasing emphasis on rote memorization and regurgitation instead of the creation of successful human beings, but have yet to take the initiative to change the way students are educated. Arts education, then, falls upon the shoulders of arts-centered organizations. These organizations have created many arts opportunities for Treasure Valley youth, but few have been able to overcome the barriers that face the majority of our neediest students: money, transportation and parent involvement. ArtFaire, a private, nonprofit organization, is working to change that.
Executive Director Steve Olson's experiences with disadvantaged youth (a label far too mild to accurately describe their plight) inspired him to found ArtFaire. "I spent four and a half years working with the homeless population here in Boise. Some of those kids in our daycare had amazing artistic talent and I thought it would be nice to help those kids develop that talent, or if nothing else, use art as an emotional outlet for the situation that they're in, and possibly a means to break the homeless cycle. At the time, I didn't have the resources to do more than buy the kids some supplies and books. But two years ago a friend of mine was talking about wanting to do something with disadvantaged kids and art. There really wasn't much available in the community, so we decided to start ArtFaire."
ArtFaire is a "fairely" new organization, having just received its 501(c)3, federal tax-exempt status in December 2003. In that time, however, it has reached a surprising number of students living in low-income situations and provided them with meaningful arts programs. "We've provided over 19 programs in the past year to over 280 kids. With what little we've had to work with, I think we've done quite a bit," Olson states. ArtFaire's mission, "Enriching community by providing youth outreach programs in the arts," dictates that they reach out, and they have done so with rather lengthy arms. ArtFaire has provided programs for students from Caldwell High School, Farmway Village in Parma, Emmett Middle School, Boys and Girls Club in Garden City and Hays Shelter Home in Boise, to name a few. ArtFaire's partners also include Catholic Charities of Idaho, Hope's Door in Caldwell, Boise City Arts Commission, Good Samaritan Home and the new Youth Center in Caldwell.
The extensive list of partnerships and projects composed and completed in that short amount of time is not only due to the exhaustive efforts of Olson, the Secretary/Treasurer Doug Durst and Lead Organizer Russ Webb, but to the talented team of artists, art instructors and volunteers that believe in ArtFaire's mission and have given their time to support the fledgling organization.
ArtFaire has enlisted the aid of many local artists including sculptor Julianna Arriar, professional cartoonist Allen Gladfelter, painter Lorin Humphreys, freelance painter Jeri Jessup, drama teacher Paul Kozak, high school art teacher Dan Lake, graphic artist Dick Lee, children's book author and illustrator Kathy Peterson and artists Shantara Sandberg, Juanita Taylor and Rick Thompson. As the organization continues to grow so too will the need for volunteers.
In addition to art instructors, Olson is looking for someone to help write grants. "Unfortunately, there are more organizations interested in having us provide programs than we currently have funding for ... We're adding programs as funding allows." With increased funding, Olson would like to expand the availability of the program. "I would like to do something at every Boys and Girls Club in the Valley. It's a really good partnership. They serve the population that we're looking for." Olson would also like to see ArtFaire find a home of its own. "I'm hoping we can have a facility by the end of next year. Preferably, a facility in Garden City where we can offer a wide range of arts programs in all art media, music, drama and literary arts."
To complete a volunteer application, make financial donations or view the organization's busy calendar, visit their Web site at www.artfaire.org. As you search the site, you can also linger over images of our community's neediest children engaged in fulfilling, life-changing art experiences. There are no ISAT tests visible and no evidence of disengaged, disenfranchised, disadvantaged youth.