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How and why we are creating fun, free art kits for Detroit children, with amazing partners

Part of the first 500 creative activity kits at Brilliant Detroit. (Photo: Vickie Elmer)

It started with a comment on our co-founder’s Facebook page, a suggestion that families in Detroit may not have enough materials to create at home

Those few sentences identifying the need to distribute art boxes along with food in Detroit came from Yvette Jenkins, owner of Love Travels Imports.  (In the three degrees of separation, her shop shares space on Livernois with Art in Motion, which had hosted Mint for several workshops and participated with us in the Palmer Park Art Fair.)

Yvette’s comment inspired us to action. Soon we were connected with two other nonprofits: Arts & Scraps and Brilliant Detroit. Both of them are our partners in our Paint Detroit with Generosity initiative.

By 12:35 on March 13th – that’s 313 Day or Friday the 13th – the first emails flew out to Arts & Scraps executive director Ang Adamiak under the subject line: “Incredibly timely idea: Art boxes while DPS and other schools are closed.”

Our co-founder and executive director Vickie Elmer had already started brainstorming ideas. She saw this as something big and beautiful – 5,000 or more kits given to children in Detroit, fast and free.

Yet we knew we also had to line up funding and figure out how to get these kits to families with children, since schools, recreation centers and libraries were closed to protect against COVID-19 spreading.

It turns out Brilliant Detroit was a well, brilliant choice for many reasons, including its network of eight neighborhood centers that serve thousands of children and their adults. Its CEO and co-founder Cindy Eggleton knows how to collaborate and make things happen. So before we could say “coronavirus rhymes with iris” three times, we had funding for the first 2,000 kits.

A child created this penguin from one of the first kits. (Photo: Brilliant Detroit)
About two-thirds of the contents of the Creative Activities Kits created by Arts & Scraps, Mint and Brilliant Detroit. (Photo: Vickie Elmer)

The art kits contain all kinds of recycled art supplies from Arts & Scraps store and warehouse, from paper to cones to glitter and crayons and popcicle sticks and more.  Then we add in two two-sided Mint coloring pages, which were printed partly with underwriting by Detroit marketing firm MCCI Corp., and Jennette Smith Kotila.  (One degree of separate here: Jennette was managing editor of Crain’s Detroit Business when Vickie started writing for the publication. They worked together on Crain’s Most Influential Women special section and more.)

Last Monday, March 23, three volunteers recruited by Mint picked up the first 500 kits from Arts & Scraps and drove across I-94 to Brilliant Detroit’s headquarters. They all were women.

This project is starting to sound like a women’s empowerment activity – and in some ways, it is. Three women working with women to support mothers and children, grandmothers and fathers in a challenging time.

The first kits were given to families in Southwest Detroit who are connected to Brilliant Detroit.  “Thank you for supporting us to help our children. To motive them, and to learn to imagine,” said Gloria Vera, a mother of three children who received the kit last week.

Two of the Ramos children with some work made from the Creative Activities Kits. (Photo: Brilliant Detroit)

Creativity and making art have many benefits to children from problem solving to developing fine motor skills.  It  also is good for relieving boredom or stress.

“Here’s a little of the work that we have done,” said Judith Ramos, mother of four. She shows off work by her children Yajairi,  Yesenia  y Yamilet.made from the kits.  “Thank you to all the people who have taken the time to give us this material to keep our children busy at this difficult time. Thank you, and I hope God protects you.”

If you want more children to  be creative in these crazy times, please  donate to the Arts & Scraps fundraiser today.

If you wish to download one of our coloring pages from the kits, please download this one from the Palmer Park Butterfly Garden for free.