By ML Ball
Photos: The Art Effect
Most people only see what is. The tangible. But an artist, that rare type of individual, sees what could be…the intangible.
At The Art Effect, a community-based, multi-arts educational center tucked away on a side street in Poughkeepsie, that vision is nurtured, encouraged and championed in hundreds of young people every day. But within its walls, just as important as the art that is being created are the lives that are being changed.
Formed in 2018 by the merger of two long-established local arts organizations—Mill Street Loft and Spark Media Project—The Art Effect offers a wide array of programs for children, teens and young adults, ages four to 25, including drawing, illustration, painting, photography, animation, filmmaking and digital art.
Included in the curriculum is The Art Institute, a portfolio development program for high schoolers aiming for arts colleges and careers in the art world; Portfolio Day, which draws representatives from 40 colleges and is considered one of the premier portfolio events in the nation; and Reel Expressions International Teen Film Festival, which this year featured 11 short films from around the world.
But even with all this going on at The Art Effect, that’s not all that’s going on.
Kids who are not accepted anywhere else are accepted here. Teens at risk of dropping out have gone on to get college scholarships and jobs. Young people who never thought they’d have a future learn how to pursue their dreams.
“We’re social workers as much as art educators,” said Todd Poteet, director of The Art Institute, part of The Art Effect. “Our society tends to label creatives as being weird, different, abnormal. Here, students find out that they’re not weird or abnormal. They learn that what they have is extremely valuable. It’s what creates inventions, what innovates the future. Here, they become normal, which is incredibly powerful for them. And when you put the power of positive thought into a child, they become empowered to do anything.”
Executive Director Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt echoed this view. “We focus on not just artistic excellence but also life skills and workplace skills because these are transferable outside the classroom. We do everything we can to help our students achieve whatever they want to do.”
Many of The Art Effect’s students are from low-income families, which is why the organization works very hard to make its classes accessible to everyone.
“We never want to turn anyone away. If you want to be here, we will figure out a way to get you here, whether that means finding funding, grants, special donors, scholarships…whatever it takes,” said Poteet.
“To us, it’s one life at a time,” he added. “When you look at the students we’ve worked with over the years, for many of them it was nothing more than creating some stability in their lives at a time when they had none.”
Which is perhaps the greatest artistic achievement of all.
For upcoming courses and summer programs, visit www.feelthearteffect.org. █