Kim Picarillo

Kim Picarillo

Free Arts NYC provides underserved children and families in New York City with a unique combination of arts education and mentoring that helps them to develop self confidence and resiliency needed to realize their fullest potential. While most Free Arts programs provide long term mentoring opportunities, our Free Arts Days are one-time “pop up art festivals” in which corporate volunteers are paired 1-on-1 with a child.

Long term mentoring has many proven benefits: increased confidence & self esteem, children more likely to attend college and grow up to give back to their communities, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as skipping school or abusing drugs, just to name a few. However, Free Arts see that even one-time pairings have positive effects on both corporate volunteers and children.

Free Arts is a leader in corporate group volunteering and works with more than 50 companies in New York to deliver a high quality experience through our Free Arts Days. We plan projects to match the needs of the sponsor company as well as our community centers, public schools, and NYC Department of Homeless Service Shelters. Janet Wong, from Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation told us: “Our employees enjoy fun and creative opportunities to engage with their communities and each other. Really positive connections can come from only a few hours together.” Instead of only writing a check, these companies engage their employees in a day of hands on volunteer service. It is fun and refreshing for employees to get out of their office, be creative, team build, and to give back to their community in a direct way.

Individualized attention, even just for a few hours, has a huge positive effect. But, perhaps surprisingly, so does networking. The communication skills that the children practice while making immediate connections to “strangers” is a vital skill, helping them to work in groups, meet new people, and build positive relationships. Children living in homeless shelters and underserved communities get to meet New Yorkers who they may never otherwise get the opportunity to interact with: designers from Tory Burch, writers from Buzzfeed, lawyers from Shearman & Sterling, bankers from JPMC, and many more.

Occasionally, corporations host Free Arts Days in their offices. Participating children ride elevators 60 floors up in skyscrapers and get excited when their ears pop and see “fancy” offices; inspiring them to dream big, because one day they too could work in a similar office.

In today’s educational landscape much focus is given to science, math, and technology, but our corporate partners see the importance of also providing enriching art opportunities to children. Art created during Free Arts Days not only serves as a creative outlet for our kids, but helps to facilitate conversation between the adults and children, promoting collaboration and problem solving. In the Free Arts model, the child is the artist, and the volunteer becomes the artist assistant, creati an interesting role reversal in this mentorship. Who is mentoring who, when both the mentor and mentee are benefiting from the relationship?

Free Arts is thankful for the many opportunities we’ve had to work with corporate sponsors to bring this important programming to the community, and we look forward to continuing to grow with their support.