In the spring of 2020, when it became apparent that Covid-19 quarantine restrictions would require schools to switch to remote learning, Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center wanted to find a way to continue serving K-12 students in the immediate area. Field trips to the museum were, of course, on indefinite hold, but the desire to share the Loeb’s artistic treasures and serve as a resource for inspiration and education was as strong as ever.
Director Bart Thurber had heard about how some museums were donating art supplies to schools for students to use at home, and suggested that the Loeb, using membership funds which are allocated 100% to the museum’s education programs, might do the same for the Poughkeepsie and Arlington school districts closest to Vassar. In Poughkeepsie, as many as 70% of students qualify for the USDA free or reduced lunch program while in Arlington the rate is about 28%. This means that for many families, the cost of extra school supplies is out of reach.
Curator of Public Education Margaret Vetare connected with art teachers in the districts to gauge need and interest, and learned that the lack of even basic art supplies in the home was proving to be a major obstacle to successful art instruction online. “Creative acts such as art-making can be such a restorative, healthy way of coping with difficult or complex emotions,” says Vetare, “so it seemed especially urgent during this time of upheaval to give students some tools for expression.”
Vetare and the art teachers collaborated to make different lists of art supplies appropriate for primary, middle, and high school grades, with Heather Duncan-Carter taking the lead for PCSD and Jill Freeswick and Sheri Altieri spearheading the project for ACSD. For Poughkeepsie, the goal was 500 kits and for Arlington it was just over 300.
Originally, the idea was to distribute the materials in kits over the summer, taking advantage of summer lunch programs as a means of reaching a lot of families. As the summer progressed, however, it became clear that the pandemic had severely disrupted the supply chain for artists’ materials; an order placed in late June couldn’t be filled until early September, and even then some items remained backordered indefinitely.
“Trying to find 800 sets of Crayola washable markers or 800 little plastic pencil sharpeners was an exercise in futility,” quips Vetare. So the project, and the people working on it, adapted. The goal shifted to sending home supplies at the beginning of the school year, which worked out well since the fall semester began with distance learning and the need was still critical.
One of the Loeb’s summer education interns, Poughkeepsie resident Polly Ellman (Williams College ’22), took on the task of designing six activity cards to accompany the kits. Each card focused on a different medium, such as watercolor or colored pencil, and offered tips for how to use the material, prompts for art and writing projects, and examples of artwork from the Loeb’s collection that were made in the particular medium.
Supplies for Arlington began rolling in from Blick Art Materials the last week of August, and on September 4 the final shipment arrived at Poughkeepsie High School in a very large truck filled with 48 cartons of paints, sketch pads, oil pastels, glue sticks, and many other necessities. The coordinators at the schools have been busy packaging and distributing the materials and activity cards, and are deeply appreciative of the collaboration.
Freeswick, of Arlington, expressed it this way: “We are so excited and thrilled to give some of our students these wonderful art materials. I can't express enough to you how grateful we as art educators are for your support.” Duncan-Carter, of Poughkeepsie, said “I have finally gotten a minute to breathe and email so many thanks, not just for the supplies but also for the incredibly beautiful activity cards for the students. As we put these things together I just can't get over how blessed we feel. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! We could never have done this without your help!”
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center would like to express gratitude to Blick Art Materials and to Main Printing in Poughkeepsie for helping to make the project affordable, and to the members and other donors who have so generously supported the Loeb’s education program throughout the years.
From top to bottom: Arlington’s elementary, middle, and high school art supplies with “Loeb Lessons” Activity Cards; Lagrange Middle School art teacher Sheri Altieri assembling the art supply kits; Some of the Activity Cards designed by intern Polly Ellman; Delivery of 48 cartons of art supplies for students in the Poughkeepsie Central School District