When Ali Shute started a program to help children in area homeless shelters explore their creativity through art, she saw results quickly.
“It didn’t take too long to realize we had come upon something powerful,” said Shute, who in 1994 founded Coeur d’Alene’s Art on the EDGE under the auspices of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
The free, nonprofit program is now open to children of all incomes, though it continues to target at-risk youth. The goal is for kids to learn from the experience of making art – helping them to improve their self-esteem and develop problem-solving skills, Shute said.
“Art is a great tool,” said Shute, who works as a volunteer and is on the program’s board of directors. “The process is the point.”
This week is the last session of the program’s summer day camp. Campers will showcase the week’s creations at a public luminary festival and puppet show from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Falls Park in Post Falls.
On Monday, 55 children ages 6 to 14 gathered in a grassy area of the park to prepare for the festival.
Program coordinator Kendall Lewis showed the “blue” group – kids ages 8 and 9 – how to create lanterns from milk cartons.
“Imagine these things floating in the water,” she told them. “Just make it yours. Make it unique.”
Chantz O’Brien, 8, took Lewis’ words to heart.
“I want to make sure mine looks like it got shot by BB gun bullets,” he said, struggling with a hole-punch.
Chantz turned to program volunteer Maria Krall for assistance with the unyielding milk carton. Krall had almost as much trouble as the camper.
“You’re killing me,” she said, smacking the hole-punch on a picnic bench.
“At least you’re getting exercise,” Chantz replied.
Lewis said she hoped the lantern festival would be a ritual from Asian cultures that the children could adopt.
“They’ll be inspired to live creatively – that’s what we’re hoping for these kids,” she said.
Meanwhile, across the way, the “green” group, ages 6 and 7, practiced their best wolf howls and monkey screeches. They were preparing to develop stories they would act out in Friday’s puppet show.
In another area, the oldest, “red” group of campers was molding puppets out of a paste made of bread crumbs, glue and water. A tray of completed bread puppets was drying nearby, awaiting painting and decoration.
Volunteer Linda Shinn said her 6-year-old grandson Garrett had a blast making the puppets.
“We got our hands all messy-gooey with the clay,” Shinn said.
This is the first year a week’s session has been held in Post Falls. Other sessions have been held at the Harding Family Center in Coeur d’Alene. During the school year, the program offers free art classes.
Eventually, Shute said, organizers want to make the program available to youth across Kootenai County.
With only two part-time staff members, hired in the past few years, Art on the EDGE relies on the help of about 20 volunteers per session, Shute said.
Most of the program’s funding comes from its annual mARTi Gras benefit in February, as well as from private donations.
“We have to beg, borrow and steal for everything we have,” Shute said. “We couldn’t do this program without community support.”