Resilient Community Arts expands access to art for low-income families

  • Asa Healy,9, a participant at Resilient Community Arts in Easthampton, combines inks for a print. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Asa Healy, 9, a participant at Resilient Community Arts in Easthampton, gets ready to use a small hand press. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maddie McDougall, the co-founder and director of Resilient Community Arts in Easthampton, works with eight-year-old Adira Mahon-Kolba. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Maddie McDougall, the co-founder and director of Resilient Community Arts in Easthampton, works with Adira Mahon-Kolba, 8, and Leo Kocan, 8, to set up for a sewing project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Adira Mahon-Kolba, 8, paints at Resilient Community Arts in Easthampton last week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/30/2022 8:50:06 PM
Modified: 1/30/2022 8:48:37 PM

EASTHAMPTON — While it may be commonly believed that “art is for everyone,” unfortunately not everyone has access to the opportunities art provides.

But Maddie McDougall hopes to change that in the Pioneer Valley with the help of her new arts nonprofit Resilient Community Arts.

The organization, which set up shop in Suite 44 of the Eastworks building in Easthampton last year, offers subsidized programming for people who have an interest in art but haven’t had access to opportunities. Resilient Community Arts functions as a nonprofit through a fiscal sponsorship with the Pioneer Valley Project in Springfield, and provides programming in several media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, macramé and fiber arts. There’s also a wall where participants can suggest other artistic media they’d like to learn that the nonprofit could help facilitate.

The nonprofit also offers custom group programming for all ages and backgrounds.

McDougall, who is the co-founder and director of the organization, aims to have nearly 60% of the participants enrolled at Resilient Community Arts come from low-income households.

“The reality is that most arts infrastructure leaves out a lot of the population,” she said. “... It’s very hard for low-income families to attend arts programs for a variety of reasons whether it’s finances, transportation or child care … The world’s not built for working families most of the time.”

McDougall, of Easthampton, holds a bachelor’s degree in art and education from Springfield College. She started off her career teaching visual art in Springfield Public Schools. The experience propelled her interest in how to build community spaces and meet the needs she observed along the way.

“The driving force is wanting to open up arts access. There’s such an excellent and vibrant arts scene in the Valley, but who is partaking in that and who has access to that is a very limited group, a group of folks with a disposable income, folks who have access to child care and can take weekends off,” she said. “Our mission is to provide an accessible, community-driven arts space that fosters meaningful independent creativity as well as collective efforts to use the arts as a vehicle for social progress and equity.”

As part of those efforts, all of the programs are offered on a sliding scale. Resilient Community Arts is currently offering after-school programs for kindergarten through 12th grade through a partnership with Sharon Leshner of the Color Collaborative Studios, also located in the Eastworks building. Currently, group sizes are limited to six to eight people due to the pandemic.

As part of the after-school program, McDougall said much of her teaching approach as well as the physical organization of the studio itself is influenced by a style of art pedagogy called Teaching for Artistic Behavior. The central theme is that the student is in charge of their learning and sees the space as their own studio. Their work is typically anchored in one of eight guiding principles: understanding art worlds; stretching and exploring; reflection; observation; developing the craft; engaging and persisting; envisioning; and expression.

“Instead of telling kids to ‘do whatever they want,’ we encourage them to use the skills they already possess with a paintbrush, for example, and consider how to connect it to a specific piece of history that maybe we’ve seen before,” she said.

Another program that the organization offers is called the Womxn’s Support Group, which McDougall says provides a safe space for women, femme and gender-expansive individuals to come together.

Resilient Community Arts is offering scholarships to four teenagers who have an interest in arts and use of the studio space, and are low-income. Interested applicants will need to commit to four sessions in a month and explain why art is important to them. Financial need also will need to be demonstrated such as showing a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits card, for example.

The scholarships have been made available through a combination of funding from individual donations as well as support from the city through American Rescue Plan Act funds, said McDougall. To apply, visit https://www.resilientcommunityarts.org/.

Moving forward, McDougall and Grace Vo, the nonprofit’s co-founder and studio logistics manager, hope to bring further awareness to the need for access to the arts.

Growing up in Weymouth, Vo said she wished an organization like Resilient Community Arts existed. Vo, who holds a degree in studio art from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that the value of arts to youth is so vital and often overlooked.

“Art is often considered a luxury and something that parents might not want to spend ‘extra’ money on, but it’s so much more than classes. And I’m so humbled to be a part of something that will help provide possibilities and opportunities for those that want it,” she said.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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