SFAQ Interview with Laura Poppiti, Development Manager
How long have you been bringing the arts to the youth of underserved communities?
The Imagine Bus Project (TIBP) was founded in 1998 and by 2000, the Art Bus program was up and running. In 2001, we were incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
The following is the boilerplate language we use to describe our history:
The Imagine Bus Project’s (TIBP) visionary and passionate founder, Susan Little, established TIBP in 1998 with a mission to bring the arts to underserved children as a way to help break the isolation they faced. Upon learning that there were hundreds of San Francisco youth that had never seen the Golden Gate Bridge, Little wondered what would happen if she could find a way to physically “take creative experiences directly to young people.” With this in mind, Little bought an old airporter bus, refurbished it, packed it with arts supplies, and drove it to neighborhoods where children could be “transported” by using art as their “vehicle.”
As a result of Susan Little’s pioneering efforts, TIBP has evolved from a single, mobile art studio to become a premier arts education provider that now partners with local school districts, after school programs, community-based organizations, and juvenile detention centers to deliver comprehensive visual arts instruction. Through its three program areas, TIBP reaches over 2,000 K-12 students annually in San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma Counties.
Why do you believe it is so important and beneficial to keep access to an arts education open to developing youth?
I/we believe that arts education is a core component of each child’s/youth’s educational experience. through the creative exploration that the arts offer, children and youth learn to express themselves, think critically about the world, and develop a sense of achievement and success. Every child should have the opportunity to access an arts education, yet because of state and local school district budget cuts, the arts are often the first to go.
Exposure to and participation to an arts education offers myriad benefits to youth…. it builds critical thinking skills; offers a productive environment for students to express themselves; promotes self- confidence; encourages teamwork; teaches problem-solving skills, and, supports youth’s creative development.
What age range do you direct your teaching to?
We work with K-12 students. Essentially, our After School Studio program is directed at K-5 graders; Leadership Enterprise works with high school students; and Youth Studio is offered to youth in Juvenile Hall, who range in age from 10-19 years old—on average, Youth Studio participants are 14-18.
How can the public get involved in the Imagine Bus Project?
There are several ways that the public can get involved: through TIBP internships in arts administration, arts education, or fundraising; by joining our Board of Directors; volunteering at Art is in the Air (see below); joining us at events that we plan to host or have a presence at; and, following our e-newsletters and social media updates.
What are some of the events the Imagine Bus Project has hosted? Past, present, future?
This year TIBP will present the 7th annual Art is in the Air gala to benefit our students and programs. Each year, we invite local artists and designers to donate a piece of artwork in response to a particular theme. This year’s theme is Spark your Imagination! which puts the spotlight on the importance of arts education. We hope that Art is in the Air will inspire guests to celebrate the creativity of our children and youth who are developing imagination, hope, and inspiration through the arts.
As far as other events, TIBP hosts anywhere from 3-6 student exhibitions each year. In the past we’ve exhibited artwork at our office gallery in SoMA, as well as, at neighborhood venues like the Hunters Point Shipyard Artist Studios, Bayview Opera House, and SFO to name a few. We’re excited to announce a program-wide exhibition that will be on view at the Children’s Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum) from late January until April.
As supporters of the arts, are you or any of your staff actively practicing some form of art individually? Painting, sculpting, photography, film, dance, acting, etc.
Well each of our 10 Teaching Artists maintains their own arts practice in addition to working as educators. (Let me know if you want a breakdown of our Teaching Artists and their disciplines—the majority work in photography, painting, video, and mural making) As for TIBP’s administrative staff, myself and Executive Director Jaren Bonillo are both graduates of SFAI—I received my MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies while Jaren got her MFA in photography. It’s difficult for us to sustain a rigorous arts practice, but we do what we can. Jaren makes work and most recently exhibited at Root Division and I’m co-curating a show at SOMArts in summer 2012.
What was TIBP’s main idea behind the “Revolt Campaign”?
The Revolt Campaign was the product of our amazing students that participated in our Leadership Enterprise program at the Principals’ Center Collaborative (PCC) High School. Leadership Enterprise teaches art and design skills to youth with the aim of realizing a public art project at the end of each semester.
The kids attending the PCC are there on a court order so it was important for Leadership Enterprise’s Teaching Artist, Sandra Legler, to facilitate a positive dialogue around the project’s theme. Ultimately, students chose the theme of love and the iconic image of a heart to represent their ideas around family, and their need for belonging, being cared for, feeling connected, loved, and safe. If you look at the poster, you’ll see several words in the background that allude to feelings of being alone, sad, depressed, etc. The hand drawn heart stands out against these words, trumping them into oblivion; hence the heart is where the revolution begins….
Oh and, The Revolt Campaign manifested as 5’ x 3’ posters that were installed in 12 MUNI bus shelters throughout San Francisco. The posters were up for the month of June, but you can still see a few of them—I know the one at 43rd and Judah (a block from the PCC) is still on display!
Is there any way the public can access art created by the students of TIBP?
The Children’s Creativity Museum exhibition will be a great opportunity for the public to see our students’ work. We plan to show student artwork alongside the work of their Teaching Artist to see how the two inspire/inform each other.
Otherwise, when time allows, we try to upload images to our website, Flickr photo stream and Facebook.
Interview by: Jessica Flemming