DrawBridge brings expressive arts to local children

The Bay Area is well known as the hub of all things artistic and boasts a long history of supporting creative endeavors within its greater community.

DrawBridge, a local nonprofit, strives to maintain that connection by encouraging local children to pursue their creativity through free, expressive art programs in emergency shelters and affordable housing communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This philanthropic organization provides free items and lessons in seven counties, including Marin, San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz. They now offer an average of more than 1,000 free group art lessons each year.

DrawBridge was founded in 1989 by art therapist Gloria Simoneau, who uses the creative arts to help children and youth work through complex emotions related to family challenges. The first two DrawBridge art groups were offered at the Hamilton Family Center and Marin Housing Center emergency shelters. In the early years of the DrawBridge program, the transformative effects of art on the lives of young people and their families became evident.

“The aim of DrawBridge is to really boost confidence, spark joy and really give people, especially children, a chance to connect with their own creative expression and watch others do the same,” Tracey Bays-Booth, CEO of DrawBridge director said. “You feel like you’re watching the process – you just can’t leave a DrawBridge program and not be giddy with the joy you see. Even when people are dealing with such difficult issues, it’s great to see the impact of the DrawBridge program.”

Bays-Boothe has worked as an arts educator and nonprofit leader for more than 20 years. Prior to joining DrawBridge as Executive Director in May 2021, she held leadership positions at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Crow Museum of Asian Art in Dallas, and the San Francisco Museum of Crafts and Design. She received her MA in Art Education from the University of North Texas and holds a BA in Art History.

“The expressive arts we offer at DrawBridge are a bit different from the traditional approach to art and have different definitions. The definition we use can be rooted in psychology and art therapy, and in the early stages of DrawBridge it was much more evident with Gloria [Simoneaux’s] training as she was a fully developed art therapist,” Bays-Booth said. “DrawBridge is now trauma and therapy informed. We are rooted in the history of expressive arts, but now it is not scientifically based therapy. It’s less about the tools to create great artwork and more about the inspiration for creative expression.”

Trained facilitators and volunteers provide a safe and supportive environment for DrawBridge participants to explore the playful creativity essential to healthy development. Using this approach, DrawBridge aims to allow children to establish their own direction, pace of creation, and depth of self-exploration when expressing themselves through artistic endeavors.

“The DrawBridge program is based on weekly, monthly or bi-monthly art groups led by trained facilitators who receive trauma training and are active artists, educators or committed volunteers,” Bays-Booth said. “One of the key factors that has been so powerful with DrawBridge is the relationships we see formed between facilitators and sites that span decades. We have seen some of the children grow up and become facilitators themselves.”

One of DrawBridge’s main drives is to form and sustain partnerships in the communities they work in by creating a support network to reach more children who can benefit from access to the arts.

The organization recently developed a new partnership with the Alameda Parks and Recreation Department to present free monthly art activities as part of a summer movie program in parks throughout the city. They also launched a new summer program called Summer Art Adventures, which allows kids access to art lessons and supplies during their summer vacations. This program was created to enable DrawBridge participants to focus on art, nature and community.

Last fall, DrawBridge launched a new Community Artist program that aims to introduce kids to local artists who are deeply connected to the community and provide them with mentorship and inspiration.

They also began offering DrawBridge creativity kits, a new service initiative that grew out of distributing materials during the pandemic. Now, the organization has partnered with Blick Art Materials, Subaru Marin and Scrap SF to create and deliver hundreds of art kits full of creative prompts and art materials to kids who rely on DrawBridge.

“The response in the community when they learn about the DrawBridge program has been amazingly supportive,” Bays-Booth said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is expand the reach of our programs. The need for our services post-pandemic is even greater as so many people have been displaced and the idea of ​​increasing housing security in the Bay Area is necessary as it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We have been and are still looking for ways to expand our reach here at DrawBridge.”

DrawBridge continued its volunteer efforts during the pandemic by offering virtual lessons. Fortunately, the organization resumed face-to-face classes after 18 months of virtual teaching and was able to reopen 50-60 percent of its programs, all without any COVID-related incidents or outbreaks.

Given the recent spikes in COVID, DrawBridge and the sites remain proactive in their preventative measures and plan to pause programs if the need arises. Until then, the present activities will continue, so that no child is left without a group.

“I see the arts as essential,” Bays-Booth said. “That’s one of the things that’s been really wonderful to offer through DrawBridge during the pandemic – art is a restorative outlet for people to deal with isolation and depression and all the things that come with that.” The arts can be a tool for healing, for unification, even when we are physically isolated, and this reminds us of the power of these kinds of programs. Our entire administrative team is remote and all our programs are free. We never turn a family or provider down when they ask for our services, and we are completely reliant on the generosity of our donors and the community that supports us.”
To learn more about the artistic programs at DrawBridge, visit drawbridge.org.

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