“Normally, the last day of a show is a sad time,” artist Rob Pruitt explained to a group of 100 young aspiring artists and their adult mentor/buddies on the closing day of his exhibition at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center this past weekend, “But today, is actually a really happy day, because I get to share it with all of you.” The kids were from the NYC Department of Homeless Services and were invited to the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut for a day of art-making activities based on the Center’s solo exhibition of Pruitt’s work which ran from May 10 through September 26, 2015. The kids, ages 6-13, most of whom live in NYC shelters, were paired with volunteers from FreeArtsNYC, a non-profit organization that provides art activities for kids across New York City. The day was sponsored by the Brant Foundation and fashion designer Tory Burch.
I was paired with Joshua, a fourth grader who loves Dragon Ball Z , Captain Crunch cereal, and the Chicago Bulls. But more than anything, Josh loves to draw. When he grows up, he wants to be a basketball player, or an artist. From the moment we were paired, I was charmed. He took a pencil and started drawing, beat me in tic-tac-toe 4 out of 7 times, and could find words in the word search included in our “buddy packet” ridiculously faster than me. We met his younger brother Joseph, who admitted, yes, his brother was the artist. He comes from a long line of artists he explained. His mother draws, his uncle draws. Josh asked me, “Is Rob Pruitt famous?” Yes. “Do you think I can meet him and get his autograph?” Sure, I bet you can. So, we walked over and Rob graciously signed a little cardboard Josh handed to him – and even sketched one of his signature pandas on it. He then smiled and quipped as he handed it back, “You can probably do a better job. But, this one, you can sell on eBay.” Josh was thrilled and was careful to keep it safe throughout the day. He then pulled out his pencil again and set about drawing his own pandas, just for fun.
The Brant Foundation partnered with FreeArtsNYC for the first time last year when they brought kids up from NYC to the luscious green Conyers Farm location of the Brant Foundation, adjacent to the Greenwich Polo Club, for a similar day with artist Dan Colen. FreeArtsNYC provides underserved children and families with educational arts and mentoring programs, from day long field trips like this one, to longer term mentoring and cultural enrichment programs. FreeArtsNYC was founded in 1998 by Liz Hopfan, who was still out there on this afternoon with everyone, providing a lot of good-natured energy and support, throughout the day.
Similarly, Allison Brant, was a great host. In her multi-faceted role as director of the Brant Foundation she coordinates and co-curates exhibits. She has also, since its founding in 2009, established the Brant Foundation as an educational institution. “Education can simply be the experience of something and how that something affects someone,” she explained. “The Brant Foundation exists as an educational institution in so many different ways and on so many different levels. Besides creating accessibility to contemporary art all over the world through our loans and traveling exhibitions, we have a vast array of educational programs. These programs range from our lecture series which takes place in NYC colleges to an intensive international internship program. Our primary goal for our visitors and those who take part in our programs whether they are 4 or 94 is that what they see or hear has a formative effect. Free arts day is a perfect example of this.”
The day started early with a guided tour of Pruitt’s exhibit. The kids asked questions and really engaged with the work. Following that, a tent was set up and the tables were filled with art-making materials. They made their own splatter paintings, decorated canvas bags and there was even someone dressed up as a panda, and the kids made clay models of him which dried in the sun while we ate our pizza and talked about the day and all the things we liked to do. There was time for running around and playing too!
Of course the hard part was saying goodbye. The kids packed up their bags, proud of the artworks they made throughout the day. There were lots of hugs and waves as they boarded the buses back “home.” While it’s hard to think of Josh going back to a shelter, Rob was right, at least today, it was a happy day.
The Brant Foundation Art Study Center presents two exhibitions per year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The next exhibition will be a retrospective of works by artist Dash Snow opening in November. The Brant Foundation Art Study Center is located at 941 North Street, Greenwich, CT and is open Monday through Friday 10am thru 4pm. Admission is free and by appointment.
Writing by Kristine Roome
Photographs by Ben Rosser/BFA