Art is essential, art is powerful, and during these difficult times, every child should have access to the supplies they need to be creative

Arts Umbrella, a Metro Vancouver-based not-for-profit arts education organization, believes every child should have access to an arts education. Over the past few months, their methods for delivering that education have been challenged. Without the in-studio human-to-human connection that can spark imagination, they’ve had to reimagine what it means to inspire creativity.

Like many arts organizations, Arts Umbrella met the COVID-19 crisis with hope and innovation. They pivoted to bring classes online and have been sharing art projects and challenges on social with #AUathome; but they also wanted to ensure that young people have access to the supplies they need to be creativeat home.

“Each year more than 7,000 young people access our donor-funded Community Programs at no cost,” says Paul Larocque, President & CEO of Arts Umbrella. “These programs were cancelled from March to June due to the COVID-19 crisis, and we wanted to find a way to provide for this vulnerable community during such a difficult time.”

With generous support from Opus Art Supplies, Arts Umbrella has delivered more than 200 art kits to children and youth at Kiwassa Neighbourhood House in Vancouver and through its Westminster Savings Artful Afternoon program in Surrey.

“Our primary focus is to support through inspiring, educating, and enabling the creative community,” says Tom James, President & CEO at Opus Art Supplies. “We see creativity as a basic need. People have physical, mental, and emotional needs, and we all want meaning and purpose. At Opus, we really feel that it’s foundational for children to be able to express their creativity.”

Natalie Moravek is the Childrens’ Program Coordinator at Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, where she oversees all out-of-school learning opportunities for school-aged children in grades K-5. Their immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis was to provide food security to the vulnerable members of their community. Since March they have been delivering weekly food hampers to 150 households.

“Once we had food delivery in place, we could turn our attention to other things,” says Natalie. “How do we stay engaged at home to lead healthy, balanced lives? People need more than food right now; they still need connection to people, they still need resources for outdoor play and creativity.” During her weekly visits with families, Natalie found that their number one request was for physical supplies to engage their kids in creative activities, supplies they would normally access at school or through Kiwassa’s programs, but don’t have at home.

The Arts Umbrella art kits delivered to Kiwassa have now gone on to children of essential workers at two of their emergency child care sites. They have also gone to at-risk youth through Kiwassa’s street outreach, as well as to students who access the hot lunch program at the local elementary school. Some of the blank sketchpads are being used as journals to promote youth mental health.

In Surrey, the art kits were available for curbside pick-up to families who access the Westminster Savings Artful Afternoons program. Artful Afternoons is a free after-school program that provides at-risk children with a space and high-quality supplies to express themselves.

The initiative continues to grow. In the coming weeks, Arts Umbrella will deliver 40 kits to the YWCA Crabtree Corner Community Resource Centre through the support of an anonymous donor. An additional 500 kits have also been made possible by the Canada Emergency Support Fund, an emergency funding program from the Government of Canada that is designed to help Canada’s most vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 crisis.