Frustrated by vanishing grants and behavioral changes in her children resulting from deteriorating housing, evictions, and trauma, Cathy Barney discerned that it was time to alter Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, the arts ministry for marginalized kids that she founded in 2012 under the care of Cincinnati Friends Meeting. She was led to work one-on-one with the kids and complete A Place Called Artsy Fartsy: Building Creative Community in Your Neighborhood, a book that documents this journey, including its spiritual aspects, and spotlights the children’s writing, art, and photographs. ArtsWave and the Ohio Arts Council funded pieces of this work, which also serves as a blueprint for others to follow with lesson plans, tips, and organizational forms.
The coronavirus pandemic reaffirmed this direction. “The main goal of the book is to serve as tangible evidence to these children that they matter,” shares Cathy. “Each one will receive a printed copy."
“The book will be a message to readers about how all children matter,” she continues. “Artsy Fartsy is about reflecting the beauty and creativity of these kids so that they can see that of God in themselves. In addition to giving voice to the children, I hope the book will encourage others to build similar programs.”
One thing that the pandemic has done is give Cathy the gift of down time to interview the children and draft their individual stories. The following are some snippets from the book.
Hope, who has been a part of Artsy Fartsy the longest, had to put away the sunset she was painting to do her interview. “Art and creativity help me cope in times like this,” she says, referring to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. “When something is going wrong or right, art and creativity are the first things I turn to. It’s something I know will always be there, no matter what. Art is dependable. Artsy Fartsy Saturdays helped me realize the type of art I like to do, what art really is and the different kinds. It’s a place that never gets old, where there is someone there for you or when you need a day to get away.”
Darrion’s favorite place is the top of a tree. He’s been climbing since he was four, always searching for a tree branch to reach. “It takes a lot of upper-body strength to pull yourself up into the tree,” he says. “The branches get thin and it can be scary the first time you get toward the top.” The reward for bravery, he says, is “you can see the whole apartment complex from up there. It makes me really refreshed. It’s a place to escape.”
Darrion’s courage is not limited to scaling the forest. “One thing I have learned,” he shares, “is that my entire life I have lived away from my mom and dad and some families are just like that.” When told what a remarkable attitude that is, he quietly responds, “I have been called brave.”
Brooklyn, completing her fourth year in Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, is reliable and always does whatever she is asked, even being the first to volunteer for the difficult jobs, like changing groups or cleaning up. “Really all I do is just try,” she says. “I don’t think about the hard things. My grandma (whom she cites as an inspiration in her life) shared a quote with Cathy (the Serenity Prayer) about God: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That really means something to me. Whenever I am feeling down and want to change people, but they can’t change, I realize I don’t have to think about the past or the future. Just the present day right now.”
Antonio is nicknamed "the mayor" and is an Artsy Fartsy mentor. He calls a tour of City Hall and a podium address he made to the community development committee “a big point in my life. Everyone should have a moment like that.”
He asked for help from Artsy Fartsy Saturdays in creating a community clean-up proposal that included a trip to the library for information for him to outline his plan, an editing session, meeting with a Council member, a speech to the full committee, and circulating a petition to collect signatures of neighbors willing to help. “It really hypes you up and makes you want to do more for your community,” he says. “I learned how things work. Standing at the microphone felt exciting. My voice spoke for the community. I was a representative. That’s a big deal for a seventh grader! It was the first thing I got to do officially and it made me feel like one of the big people, too. It helped my self esteem.”
In response to having some undesignated funds in our budget, Cincinnati Friends Meeting came together in community to make an additional gift to Artsy Fartsy, in addition to the annual gift we give. Cathy shares her gratitude for this most generous additional gift. It will be used to help with editing, designing, and printing the book and other support to Artsy Fartsy.