“What’s in the middle of our face?” Honolulu Museum of Art School instructor Jenna Cook (pictured above, top row second from the right) asks the dozen children in the recreation room of Shriner’s Hospital for Children in a recent Art to Go session she leads once a week. “The nose!” half of the kids shout enthusiastically. “Actually, it’s the eyes!” says Cook, as she has her class create Andy Warhol–style self-portrait prints. The revelation stuns the kids sitting around large tables into silence—but after quickly collecting themselves they began applying this newly learned information to their work.
The room’s walls are crowded with drawings, painting, and collages—the visible impact of the Art to Go outreach program, which, when it launched in 2003 to fill the gaps in Hawai‘i’s public school system, sent qualified artist instructors and supplies to schools in need. Since then it has served thousands of students in classrooms across the state. In 2014, Cook started looking to expand the program to areas in need outside of the classroom.
“I started out teaching Art to Go at schools that took arts education out of the curriculum, which was rewarding, but I felt that we could reach out a little bit further,” says Cook. “I drive past Shriner’s every day, so a few years ago I had the idea to try and take the program to places where kids are unable to go to school, or attend an art class. I made a few connections with people at the hospital, found out who was in charge of the recreation center, and it worked out!”
Now her class at the hospital is among the most rewarding things she does. “The kids come in, and you can see on their faces that they’re tired of being there,” she says. “There are teenagers and kids that are living in a hospital, just trying to get better, sometimes for months. Many of them come in drained, sometimes they’ve just come from another surgery, or they’re not sleeping well, but there are times when kids come in to the rec center and exclaim ‘We’re having art today?’ and I can see the color return to their faces. This program really helps these kids get through difficult situations.”
Cook isn’t just an art-teacher-for-hire—she has a relationship with each child and their families. She knows their names, and intimate details about their lives. She goes out of her way to connect these kids to the arts, and to create personal connections with them as well.
Last year, Cook added another venue for Art to Go—the Next Step Shelter in Kaka‘ako. “That’s my newest class,” says Cook. “And I’m trying to figure out how I might bring this program to other places in need.”
For the first time, Art to Go is made possible with the generous support of the Clarence T. C. Ching Foundation. The program is also indebted to the support of Aloha United Way, Ellen M. Koenig Memorial Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, Friends of Hawaii Charities, Inc., Krause Family Foundation, Louis Vuitton, The Robert F. Lange Foundation, Luxury Row, Na Lei Aloha Foundation, Pacific Rainbow Foundation, Sidney Stern Memorial Trust, State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Target, The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, and private donors.
Are you an educator? Find out how to request Art to Go for your school.