For some families, getting their children to appreciate the arts is easy: they pack them up in the car for a Milwaukee Art Museum trip to view works of art from around the world. But for other families, accessibility and resources to things artistic are huge obstacles to overcome. AWE (Artists Working in Education, Inc.) has a solution, says executive director Sally Salkowski Witte, who admits “It isn’t easy for just anyone to haul all their kids around town to make an art project. We make it easy and comfortable.”
AWE (rhymes with ahhh!), is a nonprofit organization that sponsors artists and art teachers, like Siefert Elementary art teacher Thomas Haslett, to nurture the creative best in children. Their goal: to enhance human potential, advance learning, and cultivate community. They accomplish this through “Truck Studio,” and when school begins, “School Studio,” programs that help design and develop meaningful art projects linking school, artist, and community. In the heat of Milwaukee summers, AWE’s four Truck Studios will (now until August 6), provide free afternoon art experiences for thousands of children at over ten parks and several community centers across our city. Gordon Park, a Riverwest gem, is included in these fun stops, which began over four years ago, and over those four years, has developed a following of kids who like their art on the “mobile” side. Indeed, Witte says, “AWE has been pleasantly surprised by the fact that some kids follow trucks from park to park.” They seem to seek out positive, creative art activities, ones that build on previous learning experiences and promote new discoveries. The only regret that AWE artists have is that they are unable to stay at sites for longer amounts of time. The trained, professional artists work with kids on projects as diverse as kite, wind-sock, and jewelry making. In addition, AWE’s Truck Studios are available for hire to business and community groups looking for creative art activities for all ages. “It’s a nice activity for the kids to learn about themselves,” art educator Haslett said during a recent African doll-making session at the Unity Church on 24th Street, near one of the Truck stop sites, Tiefenthaler Park. Good news from AWE in 2004…they’ve added one more van, and extended their stay at four of the parks to two weeks, instead of the previous one week tenure. Funders like the Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Youth Foundation, and the Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation (plus generous donations from private sources) make it possible for all children to experience the joy of self-expression.