Recently, Sasha Davis ’13 and her boss, Jamie Silvestri, were driving down a street in Bath in the ArtVan, a bus covered in colorful murals painted by children. When they passed a troop of elementary school students, Silvestri warned Davis to “slow down and get ready,” Davis recalled. “Then all the kids looked up and started yelling, ‘ArtVan!’ ‘ArtVan!’ It was absolutely amazing.”
That kind of popularity greets the Art Van wherever it goes, Davis said, proving to her that what it does is working. ArtVan is a mobile arts therapy program run out of Bath, founded by Silvestrie to bring art classes to children and teens, and some adults, who live in low-income communities.
This summer, Davis, who is majoring in government and legal studies and minoring in education, has a McKeen Center Community Matters in Maine Summer Fellowship to fund her internship with ArtVan. She said the position fuses her interests in education, children, and the arts. Plus, it reflects her belief that art should be an integral part of childhood education.
“I’m a firm and passionate believer in art, and that having creative outlets for children is key to their development,” Davis said. “What some kids find on the football field — an outlet for gaining confidence, learning what’s important to them, how they think — can be found for other kids by learning to paint or make a sculpture. It’s about valuing the individuality of kids and is something that schools are forced to semi-neglect to achieve curriculum goals and standards.”
ArtVan’s free programs are mostly designed for children who have few options for after-school and summer activities. Davis said she’s seen some of the children attend ArtVan programs every chance they can. “There are the same kids there week after week,” she said. “They’re finding something there.”
Davis both assists in the administrative side of the nonprofit and helps design and run the programs. A theater lover, Davis’s capstone project this summer is to develop a theater program for the children. “We are three weeks into Sasha’s internship and she is already accomplishing some of the hopes we had for her in this internship. These include building community partnerships and relationships with the youth that ArtVan serves,” Silvestri said.
Davis grew up in Washington D.C. and attended a magnet high school called School Without Walls, which uses the city as a classroom. She says this experience fostered a desire in her to stay involved in her community, which was one of the reasons she says she came to Bowdoin. After she graduates next year, she’s hoping to earn her teaching certification.
The Community Matters in Maine Summer Fellowships, overseen by the McKeen Center for the Common Good, provide a $4,000 stipend to each of several students and places them in internships with local organizations that address social and civic concerns. The competitive fellowship is just one among many that Bowdoin College offers to qualified students to support summertime research, projects, or internships.