Arizona Artbeat: Free Arts

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Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona provides services to kids living in group homes, treatment centers, child crisis centers and homeless shelters. Free Arts recently received a $250,000 grant to continue its work. Alicia Sutton Campbell, executive director of Free Arts, will tell us more about her organization.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Art Beat" looks at Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, a nonprofit group that helps heal abused and homeless children through artistic expression. Here with us is Alicia Sutton Campbell. -- Give me a better definition of free arts for abused children.

ALICIA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Free Arts is a nonprofit agency in town and we heal abused and homeless children through artistic expression.

TED SIMONS: And what kind of artistic expression?

ALICIA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Any kind you can think of. Art is a very accessible art form for children but different art appeals to different children. We want to make sure when we're providing the tool of artistic expression to children, especially children who have suffered some kind of trauma. We enable them to choose the art form that is most comfortable for them or that they are the most interested in.

TED SIMONS: We're talking visual arts, music, theater, dance, lighting?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: We've done welding, cooking, beading, sculpture, anything -- hip-hop dance, very popular. So anything that the kids can think of we want to provide it for them.

TED SIMONS: Have any of these creative modes become more popular over the years?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Absolutely.

TED SIMONS: The kids used to want to get into painting and now dance. Used to want to get into theater, now writing or something.

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Absolutely. There's certainly some classic art forms. Kids still love to write poetry, it's a very expressive art form. It's a very classical art form. We've certainly seen the more urban culture or hip hop arts culture emerging. About four years ago we added to our camp series a hip hop culture camp where kids do hip hop dance, street art, DJ-ing and MC-ing. Rather than just writing poetry they do a spoken word poetry.

TED SIMONS: You deal with group homes, treatment centers.

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Yep.

TED SIMONS: How does that work? Do the kids come to you? Do you go to the facilities?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Both of those things. Two of our main programs are mentoring program and professional artist series program. We go to where the kids are. It's difficult for the kids to get to us. We want to make sure they can have these services. We work with organizations most people have heard of like U mom or the Salvation Army, where these kids are living, and we go to them and deliver the programs there. There's programs where the kids come to us. We have a camp program and a fun program called free art stays, where kids explore arts and culture around the Valley, like the Phoenix Art Museum.

TED SIMONS: Special considerations when dealing with these particular children. What do you have to deal with here?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: We work with our volunteers. The majority our programming is delivered by volunteers. They are normal people in the community, not artists, they just care about these kids and want kids to understand there are adults in the community that care about them and want them to be successful. For just an average person who doesn't have experience with child trauma victims, we work extensively with volunteers to make sure they get training in what happens to children when they go through traumatic situations. So they can really feel comfortable when they go in with their art projects and delivering their programs.

TED SIMONS: A recent grant - how much $25,000?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Yes, $250,000.

TED SIMONS: Holy smokes, where does that money going to go to?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: That is a gift given to us by the Bob and Renee Parsons foundation. We are very fortunate in Phoenix to have Bob and Renee. Bob Parsons is the founder of Go-Daddy. The Parsons Foundation has been funding us for a number of years. About half of it will go to funding out programs, specifically our professional artists series and our camp program. The other half is a matching gift. We qualify for the Arizona foster care tax credit. Not a lot of people know about it because it's relatively new. The Parsons want us to be able to promote that for the community to understand it's available for them to take, and they will match dollar for dollar any new donations made to free arts in conjunction with the Arizona Foster tax credit up to $100,000.

TED SIMONS: In Free Arts you're dealing with art as a healing process. Talk about unlocking the imagination, self-esteem, social skills, all of these things. How do the arts help with especially abused children? -- To get through those things and learn those things and get on with life?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: That's the main key right there. We want these kids to understand that their pasts don't have to define their future. There are outlets for them. They can move past the trauma they have experienced and become kind of healthy adults in our community. The arts, if you can imagine a young child who is in maybe a homeless shelter situation with a parent. They don't often have the vocabulary or words to talk about what's happening to them and why they are not living in their home anymore. Maybe the parents are really struggling and there's a lot of stress in the parents' situation in those cases. If you give a young child in particular art and tools, they have that ability to express what's happening in their emotions without using words.

TED SIMONS: Do you push along those lines? If a child has been in a homeless shelter for quite a while and they want to write poetry, do you suggest they write about things that bother them? Or do you just leave them free and find out what they are going to do?

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: There's a good, nice balance we want to strike with the kids to show them they can use those tools, especially when they are frustrated or really having a hard day. We had a young man in a foster care group home situation. He would appear in front of the judge. He wasn't talking about reunited with his family and wasn't really able to tell the judge what he wanted. He worked with one of our mentors and artists and they did comic book drawings. He started drawing out how he felt that day and how he was feeling about the future. He took those drawings to the courthouse with him and showed them to the judge which was really helpful for him.

TED SIMONS: This sounds like a great program, you're doing great work. Continued success -- Thank you so much for joining us.

DANA SUTTON CAMPBELL: Appreciate it.

TED SIMONS: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Alicia Sutton Campbell: executive director of Free Arts

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