Columbus Arts Council Executive Director Jan Miller, standing, looks on Tuesday as Junior Auxiliary of Columbus members Margaret Rollins, left, and Alison Alexander fill out labels that will go on about 1,900 art supply boxes destined for every Columbus Municipal School District and West Lowndes elementary student. The two organizations are partnered for the project called Art Reach. JA members volunteer daily at the arts center in shifts to organize and pack boxes that will help meet pandemic safety guidelines by eliminating the need for children to share supplies. Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff
Junior Auxiliary member Heather Brignac, foreground, and Ashli Dunn sort plastic boxes that will be filled with art supplies for pre-K through fifth-grade students.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff
Bins at the Columbus Arts Council Tuesday fill with supplies for Art Reach boxes.
Photo by: Jan Swoope/Dispatch Staff
Alison Alexander, Jan Miller and Amber Brislin load a cart with some of the supplies purchased for Art Reach boxes.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
July 25, 2020 6:11:07 PM
A frenzy of packing is underway at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center. Boxes and bins fill the hallways, cover tabletops, line the walls. The flurry of activity has nothing to do with a new gallery exhibit, but it does have everything to do with art. The Columbus Arts Council and Junior Auxiliary of Columbus are partners in Art Reach. In this age of COVID-19, when guidelines dictate that students should not share supplies, Art Reach will provide individual art and school supply boxes for every child in every Columbus Municipal School District elementary school, and at West Lowndes Elementary. The total goal is 1,900 boxes.
"We're going in together to provide art boxes for all the city school pre-K through fifth-grade children and at West Lowndes," explained CAC Executive Director Jan Miller. "Every child will have their own markers, or scissors, or colored pencils, or pastels; they will not have to touch anyone else's." Boxes will be provided to each student, whether enrolled in a hybrid schedule or virtual learning (from home) schedule.
"This will help the school district meet the CDC guidelines and help ease parents who are worried about the spread of the virus," said Miller. "Every student will have supplies they can use not just in art, but in almost every class they have -- whether coloring a graph, drawing a cell for science class, or a historical person for history. They will have the tools to do that."
In normal circumstances, the arts council and JA both are active year-round in area schools. CAC presents enriching programs and professional storytelling, among other outreach. JA presents numerous service projects tailored to different grades.
"But neither JA or CAC can do their in-school programming right now," Miller said, "so Art Reach is a way for us to deal with the change. We are still providing a very needed service. We're making lemonade out of lemons."
JA of Columbus President Carrie Martin said, "Many of JA's traditional service projects require members to go into the schools. With those projects on hold, we were so excited to be asked to collaborate with the arts council on Art Reach. Not only does this project serve the children of Lowndes County, but it aids against the spread of germs during this pandemic."
Thanks to JA sponsors, the local chapter was able to make a financial donation toward the purchase of supplies. JA members are also earning service hours preparing the boxes.
"This was a win-win situation for all involved, and we are just so honored to be part of it," Martin said.
In addition to monetary donations from JA and CAC, other donors including Exchange Club, Rotary Club, Hometown Realty and Madison Forestry Service are already on board.
"We could not have done this without community support," said Miller. "Donations are coming in, but we need more to finish out the project."
For additional information, visit tinyurl.com/yy12ok84, or contact Miller or Shane Kinder at the arts council, 662-328-2787.
Art Reach was seeded by a conversation between Miller and Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School art instructor Kalyn Fuller. What began with the idea of CAC providing art supplies to a limited number of students at that school soon grew in scope. Fuller has learned that, when school begins, she will be teaching art not only at Cook, but to about 1,600 children district-wide, via recorded virtual lessons disbursed to city schools. She is excited about the opportunity, knowing the positive value in art, which incorporates mathematics, English language arts, science and history. When she expressed the wish that all students could have their own box of supplies, Miller stepped out on faith and enthusiasm to find a way. The partnership with JA and community donors is making it possible.
"The recommended guidelines that we have been given for opening schools back up are that each student should not share any supplies," Fuller said. "If you're in a typical classroom, we share all our supplies, and it was not feasible to budget out for all of my kids to have their own art supplies. I'd been trying to figure out a way to make it happen."
Art Reach can also be a help in households that may have experienced economic challenges during the pandemic, Fuller added.
"Maybe parents have been furloughed, maybe they are just now getting back to work; this could eliminate some of the stress on parents having to get supplies."
Working with a wish list developed by Fuller, representatives from CAC and JA went shopping. Serious shopping. Finding enough quality markers, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, scissors, oil pastels, rulers and colored pencils for 1,900 boxes required ingenuity and muscle. Stores in Columbus, Starkville, West Point, Amory, Louisville and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, received a visit. Some supplies have been ordered in bulk as well.
"We tried to buy local, but when we couldn't find local, we ordered online," said JA member Alison Alexander, Art Reach Project chair and a teacher at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. "Every place we've been, they've been so wonderful."
Art Reach may lead to future collaborations, especially during the pandemic-altered school term, Miller said. "We're working with JA to explore alternative ways to provide quality-of-life projects."
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat is enthusiastic about Art Reach and appreciative of past and present support from JA and the arts council.
"It's a great initiative to be working with the Columbus Arts Council and Junior Auxiliary. We believe in arts education. ... This will give us the opportunity to be able to have art infusion and instruction," she said. "It also correlates with our safety procedures, giving students an opportunity to have individual boxes."
An art curriculum gives children a way to express themselves, to have a sense of normalcy that all are hoping for, the superintendent continued.
"Arts education for all of our elementary students will not only help them with their academics, but I feel it will be a great attribute to their social and emotional well-being," Labat said. She praised Fuller for actively working with Miller to develop the project.
"I honestly cannot thank the arts council and JA enough," Fuller said. "If it wasn't for them, this would never have been as successful as it is."
Labat remarked, "When you have a great community like Columbus, and the arts council and JA, and an art teacher who has an enthusiasm and passion for doing things that relate to things she loves, then great things will happen."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.