Children provided space to create at Mitchel Houses
An abandoned barbecue pit in the courtyard of the Mitchel Houses is not the first place one would expect to find a mix of youthful vibrancy and art.
But on six consecutive Saturday afternoons this summer, anyone visiting the sprawling complex at the corner of E. 138th St. and Third Avenue would have found just that. The Bronx Children’s Museum held the summer’s last ARTSPOT programs, offering arts and crafts workshops for pre-k through 3rd grade children from Mott Haven on Sept 6. The mobile museum is still seeking a permanent home.
Program manager Luisa Escalera described the final gathering as “the most colorful and biggest” of the six that were held at Mitchel on consecutive Saturdays. The color was apparent at first glance. Some children gleefully ran around the purple woven structure upheld by the trees while others blew bubbles. Others painted and learned to drum.
The high hopes of kids, their parents and the event’s organizers were nearly dashed just six weeks earlier, however, when vandals destroyed the art works displayed at the program’s first summer event. Organizers had left the works at the barbecue pit overnight.
“Our first event was a bit heartbreaking because it only lasted a day and it was completely destroyed,” Escalera said. “We had to battle that.”
The program organizers are still considering what to do with the art that the kids created over the summer. Kendra Brown, a teacher at P.S. 154, the Jonathan D. Hyatt elementary school in Port Morris, said she was considering bringing one of the most colorful banners, partly painted by a shy student of hers, back to the school this semester.
The positive vibe that permeated the Sept. 6 event helped persuade Brown, who is also a member of the program’s advisory board, that the program is valuable to children in the neighborhood.
“I don’t know if [Escalera] ran into any problems, but I know it’s a great idea,” she said. “This space is nice to utilize, and just walking from the train, you can see the colors.”
But despite the program’s importance for local children, there is no guarantee its funding will continue. City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito provided some of this year’s funding.
Escalera and the Bronx Children’s Museum program director, Natalie Wood, say the neighborhood badly needs the program. The Bronx Children’s Museum is the only one in the five boroughs without a permanent home, and it has no fixed summer programs for Mott Haven kids.
Whether it’s the thrill of performing the Nae Nae dance next to the DJ or learning how to create art, children need exposure to the arts, said professional performing artist David Alston, 30. Alston, who volunteered to teach the kids how to drum on plastic buckets on the program’s final day, said that performing in a high school drum corps while growing up in Virginia, inspired his career choice.
“A lot of people [don’t know] sometimes there are things out, but they don’t have a way to find out about it,” he said. “I feel like putting it right in the middle, they can’t miss it … those kids need it.