Saturday, August 10, 2002

Art keeps kids busy

Summer program enrollees earn prizes

By Tom O'Neill,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Leaning on his elbows, Donta Clark suddenly stopped Friday, put down his light-blue chalk and flicked away a nearly invisible shard of glass.

        Then he went back to his canvas — the sidewalk at 14th and Pendleton streets — from which an elaborate Easter egg basket was beginning to emerge.

[photo] Donta Clark draws on sidewalks in Pendleton Friday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        “I didn't ever know I could draw, so I try to do my best,” the 13-year-old Pendleton boy said, squinting in the morning sun. “I just like getting stuff finished.”

        That sense of diligence and accomplishment is a cornerstone of Patchwork Kids, an 8-week program sponsored by the Cincinnati Art Club that ended Friday.

        In all, 117 kids — mostly from Pendleton — and 26 art mentors participated. Kids' prizes were based on attendance.

        “The value is partly to heal the city,” said Cincinnati painter Mary Jean Weber. She coordinates the program and has a studio in Pendleton.

        There's “also a sense of pride, the value of working, and the responsibility of coming each week,” she said. “And fun.”

        Rain can wash the sidewalks of chalk, but not the lessons born there.

        Norma J. Payne knows lessons. She's a teacher at Peaslee Day Care Center, which had 17 children at Friday's event. She's also a great-grandmother.

        “We don't age until we lose the kid in us,” she said, marveling at the artwork at her feet.

        Friday's theme was holidays. Donta drew a snowman on one sidewalk square, then a Christmas tree and was halfway through the Easter basket when a mentor called him to join the group photo.

        “I'm OK,” he called back, sorting through purple, blue, yellow and white chalk. He never made the photo shoot.

        He lives in a nearby apartment with his mother, two brothers and sister. His dad, whom Donta talks about enthusiastically, lives around the corner.

        It is a neighborhood of low-income apartments, trash-strewn alleys, and graffiti. It's also a place where neighbors look out for each other, sit on front stoops and chat, a world away from the bustle of nearby Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.

        “Any color you want,” art mentor Sally Hodgson, 48, of Blue Ash, told 6-year-old Tyron Powell. “Any color you want. ... Tyron down there, he doesn't want my help on his pumpkin.”

        Tyron spoke but never stopped drawing. And he insisted this be a solo project. “I'm doing this all by myself so I can win something.”

        He wasn't sure what his prize would be, and he didn't really care.

        On the east edge of Pendleton Street: “I got purple in there,” Martha Clark, 9, of Pendleton, said of her Easter bunny. “Green, white, blue, orange. All different colors. And I think it's beautiful.”

        A few squares away, a team put the finishing touches on Old Glory.

        “Just getting the kids active,” said Kristy Cook, 20, is one great thing about the program. She was helping her three cousins, ages 4, 2 and 2, draw that American flag as a symbol of all the country has been through. “See all my little fireworks around it?”

        Below it she wrote her cousins' names: Kilonshay, Kemel and Kishawn.

        “That baby had a chalk beard,” she said. “The other one had a little chalk mustache.”

        She tried to stop laughing, but couldn't.



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