A Successful b-ART-er: Why We Love Arts on the Block
By Alison Klein | June 1, 2016
Don’t call them “students.” The kids who participate in Arts on the Block programming certainly attend school – usually high school – but they aren’t students in the context of the Silver Spring, MD, arts space I’m visiting. They’re the artists we’ve commissioned to design a piece for our new conference room. And right now, they’re asking me some really tough questions.
RoundPeg’s relationship with Arts on the Block (AOB) goes way back. Our partner and creative director Polina selected this DC area nonprofit as the recipient of the 2006 Peg Percent. It’s not hard to see why: Polina is [obviously] creatively inclined and Arts on the Block offers youth of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to experience the intersection of art, design and business by engaging in real-world projects.
Fast forward 10 years and we’re meeting to b-ART-er: we designed AOB’s new lookbook in exchange for a one-of-a-kind masterpiece to adorn the wall in our new conference room. Having this kind of long-term relationship with a nonprofit in our community isn’t just convenient when we want a hookup on office décor – it’s one of the ways we align our operations with our Purpose to achieve internal brand alignment. Creating these kinds of experiences is essential for good companies with employees that aren’t “on the ground” because making social impact tangible motivates and energizes workers.
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As a retired elementary school teacher, my mother gave me ample opportunity to paint pictures and spill glue and sew things together – to be creative. I was lucky but not all parents encourage artistic exploration, foot the bill for art supplies and see artistic talent as a marketable skill worth honing. AOB gives kids from a variety of backgrounds the chance to flex their creative muscles in a supportive environment with resources for realizing their visions. There’s plenty of paint, glue, tile and plywood here.
2. It gives kids real business experience
At our meetings, the artists were probably dressed more professionally than I was (In my defense, ours is a casual workplace unless we’re meeting with clients). The artists shook my hand, took down the minutes, sent professional emails, asked probing questions and otherwise acted as professional creative consultants. They learned a lot about how to conduct themselves. I learned that I should invest in some nicer clothes.
3. It exposes kids to that unfortunate thing that abounds in the real world
The artists asked tons of good questions in our creative brief meeting, developed concepts and revised their concepts based on feedback. Then, we chose a single concept for production. Just one. This wasn’t an “everyone gets a trophy” situation. Especially as kids get older, it’s important for them to understand that they won’t always win, their idea won’t always be “the best” (whatever that means) and they won’t always get what they want. Disappointment sucks, but it happens to everyone and AOB gives kids a chance to come to grips with that reality in a relatively low-stakes situation.
4. It teaches kids the importance of collaboration
Like I said: twenty some artists and one final product. You do the math. Every participant works together to realize a shared vision.
5. It gives businesses, municipal organizations, individuals and others a chance to engage with the kids in their community
It is VERY frowned upon to hang out around schools and strike up conversations with schoolchildren. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal. AOB gives members of the community a platform to engage youth in a meaningful and positive way without creeping anybody out.
6. It exposes kids to the joy of the creative process
Those outside the industry might imagine groundbreaking creative work materializing miraculously in a fit of shared inspiration. That definitely happens sometimes, but there are also approvals, revisions, changes-of-mind and confusion about priorities. These kids got a real taste of that.
7. It gets kids thinking about creative job opportunities
In college, I read an article about a visiting poetry professor who moonlighted as a copywriter. Since I was into poetry, I figured that I should look into copywriting and now I write copy and content. CRAZY. I was lucky to find a career that makes use of my creative skills but not every kid magically stumbles upon a satisfying career path. AOB emphasizes career opportunities and makes a point of helping kids consider options that play into their artistic talents. It gets them excited about the future and gets them thinking about how they’ll get there, encouraging school attendance and other good habits.
These are just a few of the reasons we feel Arts on the Block is such a positive force in our community. If you’re local and looking for your own masterpiece, consider commissioning these young savants. You’ll end up with a unique piece of art designed especially for your business and you’ll help power an impactful program that prepares adolescents for success. Just make sure that if you have a meeting with the artists, you wear your good clothes ; – )
Main Image Credit: Concept By Joanne Vigil-Coello