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Children of Migrant Workers Benefit from Art Sprouts Program in S China

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“Wait for 10 more minutes and we can enter!” “Two more minutes! One more minute!” several kids yelled with excitement, while waiting at the gate of the P+V Gallery for the Christmas party and Art Sprouts Exhibition to start.

The event held on Sunday, Christmas Day, was to celebrate what the kids have achieved over the past half year. All the art work on show was their efforts through the Art Sprouts program organized by the Cultural and Sports Center of Dalang Subdistrict Office and undertaken by the P+V Gallery and Handshake 302, an independent art space curated by a core group of five people.

The program, which is free for children aged 8 and over, is a half-year pilot art program held from June to December 2016. The target participants are the kids under the administration of Langkou, Dalang Sudistrict. Most of them are children of migrant workers in Dalang, Longhua.

Children of migrant workers face difficulties in integrating into city life. In some city people’s eyes, they might seem not as smart or versatile as city kids. However, that’s not the truth and the program aims to build up trust and a sense of belonging between the kids and the Dalang Community.

“These kids are very comfortable, very active and confident. I think one reason for that is the close relationship that they have with Mary Ann O’Donnell who is the P+V Gallery director, other teachers and the center,” said Marco Flagg, a photography teacher working with the program.

Flagg, who has worked with communities in America, Beijing, Shanxi and Shenzhen, was impressed by the relationship the center has with the local community.

“I know it’s so important to build that relationship which takes a lot of time and hard work. O’Donnell and everyone involved in these activities did a great job as did the kids because they also decided to come and get involved. Without a good relationship, the kids won’t be motivated to come to the class and to finish everything,” said Flagg.

According to O’Donnell, altogether there are 30 kids who have benefited from the program and a dozen of them stick to the activities all the time.

After the half-year program, O’Donnell said what impressed her most was the change in the kids. “At the beginning, they copied others’ work or asked us whether their work was done in the right way or not. But now they are very confident about their creation.”

O’Donnell said another change is that the kids, a bit shy at the beginning, are now willing to share and cooperate with other children. Some kids are also helping with cleaning and taking care of the flowers at the gallery as their relationship with the center grows.

Mao Min, a 13-year-old-girl whose parents run a shop selling bearings in Dalang, said she really enjoyed the activities of the program.

“I like the activities here. I will join again if they are going to hold it next year. It has brought us a lot of fun and we love it here. O’Donnell has been organizing the activities with us for a long time and we all love her,” said Mao.

Mao also said that it was the first time she has communicated with foreign teachers, which was a new experience for her. “At the beginning, I was a bit nervous. But then I learned that they could speak Chinese and they are very nice. Gradually I began to feel relaxed and started to enjoy communicating with them.”

The P+V Gallery, the venue for the program, is a restored historic church and school in Dalang, an industrial area located in Longhua. Established by the Basel Mission in 1891, the school was known as the Pious Virgins Longheu Girls’ School, hence the name of the gallery — the P+V.

The Pious Virgins Longheu Girls’ School was once a missionary school only for girls. Later, it began also enrolling boys. In 2007, it was listed as a district-level cultural relic protection site.

Although the school is now no longer in operation, the P+V Gallery, which is not affiliated with any religion, carries on the mission of passing down culture and history.

Since June 18 this year, the P+V Gallery has served as a museum and the location of the Art Sprouts arts enrichment program.

According to O’Donnell, the art program, a pilot one this time, will continue next year, though the agreement hasn’t been signed yet.

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