GT Pulse: Do Good and Feel Good by Volunteering with Arts For All

There were two answers to the question, “What’s your favorite class?” when I was a kid – gym or art. Not old enough yet to appreciate reading and writing as I later came to, I found art to be the best class of them all. I had a fabulous art teacher who had permanently tan and sun spotted skin, bright purple cat-eye glasses that hung around her neck on a beaded chain, and she pronounced garbage, gar-bahge. We made paper lanterns, clay pandas, detailed paper snowflakes and she always told us it wasn’t about perfection it was about patience. I will forever look fondly back on those first art classes I ever had and be grateful for the creativity it instilled in me, and the opportunity to get my hands dirty and have fun with my peers while doing so. Not everyone has been lucky enough to have access to art, and Arts for All Northern Michigan makes sure that more people can have fun using art as a creative outlet and they need more volunteers to get involved.

Arts For All recently hosted an open house where some of my colleagues and I were able to get some paint on paper and some clay on our fingers. Controlling and Marketing Manager Willow Myles-Nuffer and Executive Director Grace Hudson welcomed us with snacks, smiles, and encouragement as we worked on various projects set up at different art stations. One of my colleagues noted how calm she felt as we painted watercolor, and I noticed that the concentration and creativity required was indeed very meditative.

“Everyone should do this,” I thought.

Willow briefly mentioned how the nonprofit needed more volunteers and my ears perked up.

Arts For All Northern Michigan started out in 1997 as a chapter of Artists Creating Together, or ACT.

“It’s a very similar program to what we’re doing today, we were ACT GT for a while and most people still recognize VSA or ACT because that was our name for so long,” Grace said.

In 2015 ACT GT decided that the best way to serve the five surrounding counties was to break away into their own governing body, which is Arts For All Northern Michigan.

“We will not change our name again,” Grace said with a laugh.

Arts For All started as a way for kids with special needs to get involved with art. Special education classes don’t always include art in the curriculum, but the children enjoy and benefit from having art classes. 

“Our founder went in and said, ‘that’s not right, we need to be bringing the same art opportunities to these kids. So the main program we run is called Art Escapes,” Grace said.

Art Escapes is a program that brings adaptive art programming to classrooms where art is not a part of the curriculum. Arts For All employs local artists that will create an instructive art class that they take to these classes. Classes are adapted to meet the needs of students in a particular class. In 2015 Art Escapes was in eight classes. Currently, there are 40 Art Escapes classes.

“Our artists traditionally have a lot of experience of their own working with disabilities but in the past few years we’ve added our own specialized training.”

Arts For All started out with a focus on helping children with special needs participate in creating art and has since expanded to offer art programs to people of all learning abilities including students at the SOS Learning Lab in Traverse City.

Volunteers are always needed to assist artists, work events, and even do administrative based work. 

“We’re definitely now looking for volunteers in the realm of being studio assistants. We don’t have the capacity to hire in that realm yet but we do want our artists to feel like they do have some additional support. That’s our big need right now.”

Volunteering in the studio is needed but there’s also an option to volunteer in the classroom with the instructing artist, of course with additional application steps like a background check. Arts for All also puts on dances throughout the year where lots of volunteers are needed to act as chaperones to assure that attendees are safe and having fun. 

“They have a Halloween, a New Year’s Eve dance,” Willow said.

“That’s January 9th and we need a lot of volunteers for that. Your job is just to come, help us set up, decorate, dance, supervise, make sure everyone’s safe and has a good time. The dance floor is never empty, ever” Grace said.

The volunteers that currently help out and have a great time and there are definitely regulars.

“They know the participants, the participants know them. It’s really sweet,” Willow said.

Doing good makes people feel good and Arts for All Northern Michigan is doing it all. Join in on the creative fun and consider volunteering. New Year’s resolutions are only a blink away.

Categories: GTPulse