Like many other programs in the service delivery world, a great idea like the Richmond Arts Centre’s Art Truck could have fizzled out and disappeared under the weight of the long list of competing priorities. But instead, Richmond’s Art Truck program evolved from a small art-focused outreach project to a sought-after signature program that now offers children throughout Richmond an engaging and educational experience that combines arts, physical literacy, and healthy eating.
The magic ingredient in the Art Truck recipe was without a doubt, a number of dedicated staff who, over several years, chose the path of perseverance and team-work and agreed to work collaboratively across departments and institutions to make the Art Truck program what it is today. This is not a new concept or a particularly unique revelation. However, as any community service provider can attest, this level of cross-department collaboration is always easier said than done; which is why it’s worthwhile to share the history of our success stories.
In 2013, when the Art Truck program was still in its small-scale infancy, I spoke at the Healthy Richmond Conference. Among a speakers list of medical professionals and recreation and sports managers, I was the anomaly: an arts guy. Yet, I had already known, through personal experience, the similarities and mutual benefits of arts and sports.
To be a successful performer, your breath and body have to be connected, your concentration has to be focussed, and you have to be fit enough to endure night after night of physical output on stage. In a soccer match, a player assigned to defense knows their role as part of the team. Similarly, a musician has to know what part they are playing in a band. Just as a natural athlete can have their creativity expanded through arts, the arts can be a portal into physical health for those children who don’t seem to have a proclivity for sports.
Using my personal experience, I highlighted these points in my talk, which paid off in a big way when I was able to connect Richmond Arts Centre’s Art Truck program with Joyce Henry, a dedicated Public Health Nurse, and Emmanuel Adjei-Achampong, a forward thinking Vice Principal, both of whom had heard me speak.
Joyce and Emmanuel had identified an increase in elementary age children who were staying on school grounds after school hours. These were usually children with parents who were working several jobs. Often the children were found to be idle, restless and lacking meaningful interaction and engagement with adults. At the same time, the Arts Centre had been transforming the Art Truck (an art outreach service) from a simple birthday party or festival attraction to a more in-depth arts experience for children who were not able to enroll in classes at the Arts Centre.
After a few pilot rounds at Emmanuel’s school, General Currie Elementary, we realized the program was a perfect match for their students. Yet, we all agreed there needed to be a more holistic approach. That’s when the door was opened to our recreation partners at local community centres to add physical literacy as part of the experience.
Originally, the Art Truck provided simple “paint by numbers” art activities at large events and birthday parties. Since 2013, the program has transformed into a two-hour after-school experience. The children (up to 30 at a time) are identified by the school. For the first hour, half of them play with a BCRPA HIGH FIVE® certified physical literacy instructor provided by the community centre, while the other half learn an arts practice (anything from painting to musical theatre) led by one of the Arts Centre’s professional artist-instructor roster. After a healthy snack, based on a take-home ingredient menu created by a Vancouver Coastal Health Dietician, the two groups switch experiences.
The response from all the adults and children involved has been overwhelmingly positive. One of my favourite quotes comes from a child who wrote, “Art Truck is the only time when all my worries go away. It’s one of the best things ever.”
Between January 2018 and June 2019 the Art Truck has served 342 unique kids across six Richmond schools, and more want to sign on. The combination of arts and physical activity is key to the success, which is measured through surveys and by observation. Because both activities are made available to all the children, the natural athletes and the natural artists both have the opportunity to play to their strengths. This, in turn, makes them more open to the challenge of trying something new or intimidating. Every staff or instructor we send out to view the Art Truck program has always come back invigorated by the total joy and engagement they have witnessed.
In terms of sustainability, there have been many of the usual challenges along the way when a program is born on the side of people’s desks. These include lack of funding and time, competing priorities, and scheduling mayhem. Yet, the passion and perseverance of Emmanuel, Joyce, numerous City staff including Managers, Arts Programmers, Community Recreation Coordinators and contract instructors, and most recently, grant support through BCRPA’s Before and After School Recreation Spaces program, all kept the Art Truck running on full steam.
Ultimately, what will keep the Art Truck program in its healthy and sustainable growth lane is the teamwork between staff from the City of Richmond, School District 38 and Vancouver Coastal Health. So, as an arts guy I’m proud to say, on this team, I was no benchwarmer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Camyar Chaichia is the Arts Coordinator at the Richmond Arts Centre and Media Lab. As part of his portfolio he supports capacity-building among local artists and groups and is a Nonprofit Lifecycles practitioner. In his pre-Richmond career, Camyar founded a firmly established Canadian theatre company, was a published playwright, award-winning theatre writer, director and actor who has appeared in several locally shot film and television productions. He also spent several years as the Executive Director of Leave Out Violence (LOVE) BC, an organization that supports ‘at-risk’ youth through leadership and media training. Approaching his tenth year with the City of Richmond, he looks forward to continuing his good fortune of practicing his core value of community service through his career. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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