Mayor Joyce A. Savocchio

The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House

The Inner-City Neighborhood Art House was begun in 1994 by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie because the need for art and beauty in the inner-city is as real as the need for bread. The Art House offers classes in the fine arts, music, writing, the physical arts, personal wellness, ecology, and other subjects. Also provided are Hooked on Books, our one-on-one reading program, tutoring, and individual music lessons. All offerings at the Art House are free of charge to all participants.

Most of the 600 children aged 7-14 and the 100 older teenagers and adults who attend classes at the Art House each year come from the immediate impoverished inner-city neighborhood. The census tracts surrounding the Art House have an average household income under $14,000 and 59% of families receive some form of public assistance. Of the 3,800 children in the area, over 1,800 live in single parent households. Principals at the area's three elementary schools report that students dread weekends and holidays, when they have little that is constructive to provide an alternative to the streets.

Most families in this area cannot afford art or music lessons for their children. Many parents are unable or unwilling to provide a household filled with structure, love, and loving discipline, the important ingredients to build self-esteem and dignity. The goal of the Neighborhood Art House is to reveal to inner-city children and adults their own human dignity by fostering their self-confidence, self-discipline, creativity and sense of beauty. Everything done at the Art House fosters a concern for the holistic well-being of the students and is done with compassion and lovingly-set limits. The various programs offered are designed to meet the different needs of inner-city children. The Art House's programming includes:

1. Neighborhood Art House Environment. The Art House is an oasis of inner-city beauty. It has helped transform the environment of a deteriorating neighborhood. Prominent local artists and landscapers have helped make the outside and the inside as beautiful and harmonious as possible. For many children who come, the Art House is the only place in their lives they see and can emulate the staff's respect for their physical surroundings.

2. Class Sessions. The main work of the Art House is done after school, from 2:35 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. This is a crucial time to provide young people with supervised activities. Students may choose from over 100 classes in a wide range of artistic disciplines. Art House instructors are a combination of full- and part-time staff and volunteers, many of whom are very accomplished in their own disciplines. Performers teach dance, published writers teach poetry and rap, professional artists teach pottery, watercolor, drawing and fashion design, and a florist, arms laden with fresh flowers, teaches floral arranging. Professional musicians, many with advanced degrees in performance and instruction, teach individual and group lessons in piano, violin, viola, cello, drums, guitar, and trumpet. We are able to provide 100 children a year with free individualized music instruction.

3. Summer Sessions. During the summer, the Art House is open for morning and afternoon sessions with classes similar to those held during the school year. One important addition to the summer session is a cooperative meal program with Emmaus Ministries that allows students to receive breakfast or lunch, free of charge, at the Emmaus Soup Kitchen which is adjacent to the Art House. Without the school lunch programs, many of the students would not otherwise receive a nutritious meal.

4. Hooked on Books. This one-on-one reading program operates on the principle that children begin to read when the love of reading is passed on to them. Hooked On Books recruits volunteer readers from the community who come to the Art House and read one-on-one with a child. This summer. Hooked on Books celebrated its 1,000~ volunteer reader and was declared a National Point of Light by the Points of Light Foundation.

5. Community Connections. Overcoming the isolation and lack of vision that the survival-based inner-city life fosters is an essential component of creating complete individuals. One important part of the Art House program is connecting students to a broader community. Guest artists frequently come to the Art House to perform and share their gifts. Art House students have performed music, dance, and poetry at numerous community events, such as the Erie Community Foundation's Annual Meeting and the Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Artwork has appeared, and sold, at local coffeehouses and as part of Gannon University's spring show. Students' self-esteem and self-worth grow when they share their talents and learn that they are capable of contributing something. Many of the talents students exhibit for drawing, writing, music, or working with clay would never have been discovered without the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House.

6. National Model. Although the Neighborhood Art House works with children in inner-city Erie, its impact can be felt in other places in our country and around the world. Each year, artists and educators come to Erie and visit the Art House with hopes of duplicating some of our success in their own neighborhoods. Smaller scale artistic programs based on the Art House's programming have been carried out in places as nearby as Buffalo, NY and as far away as Panama City, Panama.

One of the most important aspects of the Art House's programming is that it is making a difference in the lives of Erie's inner-city children. Local principals tell us that students who attend the Art House have a greater ability to concentrate and their behavior in school is improved. Teachers come to the Art House to volunteer once their regular classes in school are completed because they recognize the value of our programming to their students. Parents thank us and tell us the many good things our work is doing in their children's lives, from painting classes improving the handwriting of physically challenged children to having an opportunity to take piano lessons that were always wanted but never affordable. Last year, the operating budget for the Art House was $172,000. That amount was raised privately, primarily through the generosity of the Erie community.


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The United States Conference of Mayors

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