2018-08-30 / News

Art Van, 14 years later, still visits Bacon Street

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer


Teaching artist Kelly Christopher, left, and Art Van founder and art therapist Jamie Silvestri pictured upon completion of their final Art Van session of the summer. The team travels to Biddeford from Bath weekly throughout the summer in the titular Art Van, pictured behind the women, bringing art projects to local children in the Bacon Street neighborhood. (Abigail Worthing photo) Teaching artist Kelly Christopher, left, and Art Van founder and art therapist Jamie Silvestri pictured upon completion of their final Art Van session of the summer. The team travels to Biddeford from Bath weekly throughout the summer in the titular Art Van, pictured behind the women, bringing art projects to local children in the Bacon Street neighborhood. (Abigail Worthing photo) BIDDEFORD – “Look! I’m a professional,” said 7-yearold Maya Campbell, lifting up her art project to show the group.

It is Campbell’s first visit to Art Van, and she is alternating between coloring a wooden plank and playing with the other children gathered at Piersons Lane Playground.

Every week, children from around the neighborhood gather in the park to sit with founder and art therapist Jamie Silvestri and teaching artist Kelly Christopher. Silvestri and Christopher come prepared with a model of a project and the supplies needed to execute it, but with the intention that the children can take the idea and turn it into whatever they would like.


Maya Campbell, age 7, and Art Van founder Jamie Silvertri work together on the art project of the day, coloring planks of wood and using hammers and nails to decorate. This was Campbell’s first visit to the Art Van, a drew a heart that was “sending out love to everyone” in her project. (Abigail Worthing photo) Maya Campbell, age 7, and Art Van founder Jamie Silvertri work together on the art project of the day, coloring planks of wood and using hammers and nails to decorate. This was Campbell’s first visit to the Art Van, a drew a heart that was “sending out love to everyone” in her project. (Abigail Worthing photo) Silvestri, of Bath, founded Art Van as a mobile art therapy organization 14 years ago and it became a nonprofit in 2012. The organization began in Bath, however it has now expanded to neighborhoods in Lewiston, Auburn, Brunswick and the Bacon Street neighborhood in Biddeford. Funded in part by a annual $4,000 Community Development Block Grant, the organization visits Biddeford once a week, guiding neighborhood children through projects and allowing a creative outlet to communities that lack sufficient summer programing.


Every week, the Art Van staff brings a completed project for reference, however the team allows the children to use the materials in whichever way they desire. (Photo by Lillian Cyr) Every week, the Art Van staff brings a completed project for reference, however the team allows the children to use the materials in whichever way they desire. (Photo by Lillian Cyr) During the Aug. 20 visit, the project prompted children to decorate a wooden plank affixed with nails and embellished with paint, crayons or markers.

“One girl drew a heart in different colors with lines shooting out around it. When I asked her to tell me about it, she said, ‘The heart sends out love to everybody,’” Silvestri said. “I just thought that was so great. To me, that’s a success.”

The projects also focus on helping kids with tactile skills. For example, the Aug. 20 project taught children how to use a hammer.

“You’d be surprised how many kids don’t know how to use a hammer,” said Christopher of Hartford. “We provide the tools, the hammers, nails and wires and help them use them.”

Of those participating in the Aug. 20 session was Kathryn Cyr and her three daughters, Lillian, age 7, Amellia, age 4, and Alice, age 2. The Cyr family has come weekly to Art Van for four summers now, since they moved into the neighborhood.

“The kids and I are involved in a lot of programs in the community. We volunteer and do the gardening programs, but we come back here because we really like Jamie and Kelly,” Cyr said. “It gives the kids something to look forward to and they’re both really good ladies that I like, and that I completely trust with the girls.”

For 7-year-old Lillian Cyr, visiting Art Van is a chance to play and make new friends.

“I really like it,” she said. “But I can’t show you my art. I gave it to my friend.”

Silvestri said participation changes from week to week.

“We had a session a couple weeks ago where only four of the neighborhood boys came,” Silvestri said. “But those day are great, because for some of these kids, this is their only chance at one-on-one interaction, and they really enjoy the attention.”

Christopher is a contract teaching artist who has worked with the organization for the last four years, and calls it “the best job ever.”

“We make art with the kids, but we really give them a safe environment to explore their emotions and creativity,” Christopher said.

The mission of Art Van is to give children with little access to arts programs an opportunity to create in a space where they can express their creativity and also speak about relationships and experiences. As part of the sessions with Art Van, Silvestri and Christopher speak with participants about their lives, asking questions about how they felt about their day and the project. Silvestri and Christopher work with kids of all abilities and skill levels, so the level of participation and completion varies on a child-to-child basis.

“We had a young girl here who was really struggling with listening and sitting, so we spent time working on just putting the cover on a marker,” Silvestri said. “And when she did it, we applauded. It’s the small victories that should be celebrated too. Sometimes they just need some positive reinforcement.”

While the program used to be held exclusively in summer, support from the Virginia Hodgkins Somers Foundation made it possible for the program to continue in Biddeford through the winter last year. It will continue to host a school year program this year. Silvestri appreciates being part of the Biddeford community and said she has loved watching the revitalization of the Bacon Street neighborhood. The first six weeks of the summer program are spent creating decorations for the Bacon Street Festival, which allows students to see their art displayed in a public venue.

“In a community like this, it’s been so important to form relationships and build trust,” Silvestri said. “At first, people were hesitant to come out, but now they know us and know this is a place where they can feel safe.”

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