When public schools in Connecticut shifted to remote-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Boys & Girls Club of New Haven transformed into an all-day in-person learning hub to support their community’s youth, families and caregivers. Participants were able to do their homework, attend virtual classes and receive personalized help from Club staff in a safe, social and enriching environment.
Now, as the Club begins to emerge from the pandemic, their community has rallied around them to transform an unused locker room into a brand-new arts and technology studio thanks to the generosity of Michaels MAKE SPACE grant.
Art programs are an important part of Boys & Girls Clubs, and as youth begin to process their experiences and emotions having lived through a pandemic, these programs are more important than ever. Boys & Girls Club of New Haven once had a vibrant art studio in a converted garage-space, but the room that once acted as a creative safe space sadly became a storage unit.
Nathanial Piggot, the Club’s Art Specialist, understands the impact this transformation will have on the Club. “This space will give our members an open opportunity to just express themselves and to get away from things that are going on in everyday life, and give them release,” he said.
The funding provided by Michaels MAKE SPACE grant sparked additional support from the City of New Haven and the Seedlings Foundation. The Executive Director had connections to a local architectural firm who offered to supply pro-bono services to do whatever it takes to accomplish all the goals the Club had for the new studio. And as the studio started coming together, Club youth were jumping at the opportunity to leave their marks by painting the walls. The project is a true testament to the Club’s ingenuity, resourcefulness and community.
Nine-year-old Club member Rozann A., said, “The art space will allow me to have a calm space to express myself creatively when I’m feeling down and even when I’m happy. I’ve enjoyed painting the walls and look forward to doing more Black History art activities in the new art studio.”
The newly-transformed art space provides the Club with a safe place for youth to explore a variety of creative outlets such as painting, pastels, wire sculpture and so much more. The Club feels incredibly lucky to have several staff members with degrees and careers in art who are excited to stock the room with arts supplies that their Club members may be unfamiliar with or otherwise not have access to, and watch each child discover their unique artistic abilities.
Anita Dowdy, Youth Development Professional, said, “This MAKE SPACE grant is so important to us because the arts are a key element for the development of young people. It allows for individual expression and demonstration of their unique work and perspectives. I’ve been with this Club for 26 years, and this space will finally allow our youth to showcase their creativity.“
To 12-year-old Maximus E., the room means “Imagination! I get to come here every day and make art that I love. I plan to learn more about abstract art and try out graffiti and more in this room.”
The Boys & Girls Club of New Haven hopes this new space will act as a stepping stone toward healing its community while bridging the gap between low-income students and access to art education. They are excited to bring hands-on visual arts experiences to Club members and connect youth to New Haven’s vibrant arts scene.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides youth mentorship and arts programming that encourage creativity, confidence and self-expression.