$20k donation keeps Oakland arts program afloat

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It’s 3 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch Public Library in Oakland and Antonia Moller is helping a young girl pick out colors for a collage. Moller, an art teacher, is here for their Library Education and Art Program (LEAP), through which kids can drop in to play with art supplies for two hours each week, free of charge.

Venus, age 9, and her sister Abril, 5, came to the library with their mother, Gabriela Garduño, to collage with colored paper, stickers, paints and glitter. Egypt and her brother Pharaoh, both age 3, are busy painting with purple and blue watercolors and giggling with their aunt, Sauda Burch. The two families have come to the library today to participate in the program run by the Museum of Children’s Arts (MOCHA). Moller said she loves that LEAP brings art teachers into public spaces in Oakland. “It’s nice to get to know the communities,” she said.

Though LEAP began in 2010, serving over 20,000 Oakland families at public library branches throughout Oakland, San Leandro, Alameda and other cities, it was canceled earlier this year when funding provided by state and federal agencies was terminated. In September, the program was reinstated when MOCHA received a $20,000 private donation from Art.com, an online retailer of art prints headquartered in Emeryville. These funds will allow LEAP to continue for the 2017-2018 school year.

MOCHA has received funding from state and federal sources such as the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and grants from the city of Oakland to support their free arts education programming. In addition to LEAP, MOCHA offers free programs in over 30 public schools during the school year, as well as free playgroups through the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department program “Sandboxes to Empowerment,” offered at Rainbow Recreation Center, Carmen Flores Recreation Center, and Mosswood Park. The funding goes to providing wages to teaching artists, the purchase of art supplies, coordination with sites, marketing and other expenses.

Roxanne Padgett, MOCHA’s executive director, said it has been a challenge to secure government funds for LEAP. “It is a struggle. We are concerned about going forward, how the city and state and federal money is going to come through,” she said. Art programs, Padgett said, are often the first activities that are cut from a public school’s budget. But for Padgett, these programs are “necessary in the development of children and human beings.”

Padgett said funding for MOCHA’s free programs comes from government grants or private donations that typically run for a one-year cycle. Part of the challenge of sustaining non-profits, Padgett said, is sourcing additional public and private funds to replace expired grants. “We’ve had many different funders for the LEAP program. Last year we had one from the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts], and that was a very short cycle. Some of them are for a very specific amount of time, and then they end. That’s kind of the nature of non-profits.”

Kira Wampler, CEO of Art.com, has been looking for ways the company can support Bay Area organizations. When she learned MOCHA was looking for funding for LEAP, Wampler decided it was a natural place for a partnership. “This is the start of a new wave of thinking for us as a company,” Wampler said. “Kids are the next generation who are going to be making our world better, so the more that we can create opportunities for them to get comfortable with art—to explore themselves artistically, to explore the world creatively and artistically—the more opportunities we have to create generations that are going to fundamentally improve the world around us.”

For now, the LEAP program continues to run at two Oakland libraries, including the Martin Luther King Jr. branch where Pharaoh, wearing a Spiderman outfit, dips his fingers into the paints and presses them onto the paper. He says his favorite color is purple, but he likes blue too. Feeling shy, Pharaoh slides off his chair and darts under the table.

Meanwhile, Abril and Venus are using paints and colored paper for their collages. Abril draws a picture of their home with pastel crayons on a piece of blue colored paper. She likes to collage with tissue paper that she cut into squares, and glitter that she uses to accent the lines of watercolor she paints. Abril and Venus make several images that they have sprawled across the table to dry, and say they came to the library that day specifically to participate in LEAP. Venus had seen a flyer for the program at the library the day before, and asked her mother to bring her and her sister.

As Spiderman remains under the table, Moller helps Venus gather art supplies for her next drawing, while Abril and her mother make collages with colored paper cut into heart shapes, flowers, birds, and trees.

Padgett works with the librarians at the main public library in Oakland to determine where LEAP programs should take place. “We talk about where’s the highest need, which neighborhoods need the most. Some library branches have more programs. We actually ask that we go into the libraries that have the least amount of resources and programming, in the hardest neighborhoods,” Padgett said.

Martin Luther King Jr. Branch Public Library is situated on the same block as Coliseum College Prep Academy, Roots International Academy, and Lockwood Elementary School. Students at these schools come to the library to continue their learning outside of the classroom. It’s a small, local, children’s library that provides a comfortable learning environment in the Lockwood Gardens and Havenscourt neighborhoods of Oakland.

“The arts bring a variety of skills that these kids are going to need to operate in the 21st Century: critical and creative thinking, preserving, envisioning and communication skills to name a few,” Padgett said. “It’s not fluff. It’s a way kids can figure out the world. It’s a way they can figure out themselves.”

LEAP will take place at Eastmont Library on Wednesdays and MLK Jr. Library on Fridays from 3–5 p.m. through December 2017, and at four other library branches throughout Oakland starting January 2018. Art.com will also sponsor Community Days at MOCHA where admission is free to the public. The first will be on September 30. Check MOCHA’s schedule for updates.

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