It's one week into a six-week program that gives over 120 families living in Fayetteville Housing Authority facilities the opportunity to learn about and create art. And Resident Engagement Coordinator Mary Eileen Finch says the project, called "My Museum Kit," is getting rave reviews.
"My favorite reaction -- there were two little girls outside their apartment, walking towards it," begins Finch. "When I put the box down so they could pick it up, one of the little girls said, 'It's my birthday! Thank you for my birthday present!'"
The project, a collaboration with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary, delivers, once a week, all the supplies a family needs to create artwork in the style of a piece hanging in the museum. Also included are teaching materials and instructions on how to go online to further the learning process.
In a previous collaboration in early June, the museum installed temporary murals for display at Hillcrest Towers in Fayetteville, meant to show support for vulnerable members of the community during the covid-19 pandemic.
"Covid-19, and also the protests and social unrest of the spring and summer, have really brought to light how much the museum really needs to be a part of our community -- listening, and an ally," says Crystal Bridges' Senior Manager for Public Programs and Community Sara Segerlin. "We're really shifting the idea of a museum being an exhibition space and an educational center to more of a community center. We're making more of an effort to listen and hear how we can meet the needs of the gaps and inequities that are occurring in our communities."
Segerlin says that Crystal Bridges employees have formed a sort of "assembly line" this summer to put together over 2,000 "My Museum Kits." In addition to distributing them through the FHA, they've also been distributed through the public school system and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.
Finch, a member of FHA's Supportive Housing Team, says that she and her team members have been working hard to support their residents during the global health crisis.
"In the beginning, it was all about getting food -- that was the main thing," says Finch. "And then, of course, shelter and clothing -- the basic needs. Once those were met, then Support Services could start thinking about things that the students were missing. Most of our students go to a camp or summer program ordinarily, so we tried to come up with a summer program that they could do at home. Art, especially, is soothing and therapeutic and very calming. We wanted something that families could sit down and do together to get away from all of the scariness that's going on right now."
Finch says the hope is that the residents can take a bus trip to see the museum in person soon.
"I asked one of our residents, a mom, 'Is that something you think your family would enjoy,' and her mouth hung open and she said, 'Oh my gosh, I thought it was too expensive to go to a museum.' So there's been a lot of great awareness on both sides."