In Buffalo’s tough economic times, the school district has a hard job of just obtaining funding for general subjects like math and science, let alone making sure students pass their exams. Art Partners provides teachers, supplies and an interdisciplinary agenda so students can learn about social studies for example, while constructing a Mayan pyramid as an art project.

Art Partners conglomerates as a fieldwork program involving faculty and students from Buffalo State College. Andrus also works at Buffalo State as a member of the Art Education department. Each semester a group of students, around 15, enrolls in her course, Art for Children with Special Needs, bringing the program to two designated Buffalo school sites. The special needs students not only include those with disabilities but also those considered at risk due to social, economic, environmental and other life circumstances negatively affecting their ability to succeed in school and society.

Andrus saw a need for the program back in 1994 when reflecting on her mostly white, middle-class students.

“We were on our way to producing another culturally incompetent teaching force,” Andrus said. “They have had little experience with at risk children. There is fear, misconception and stereotypes.”

The professor also studied the situation for black men in America and how they fell so fast to being at-risk children.

“Research says black male kids lose their love for school at grade three,” Andrus said. “Their falling through the cracks, and we need prevention. Every day there is racism, and it takes a toll on the psyche. When your life in your own eyes holds little value, it becomes easy to take someone else’s (life).”

Projects for the children have included themes in understanding the self, social activism and world culture.

Andrus takes pride in the fact of the program allowing children to learn to be consumers of art and possibly even makers in the future. She shows them there is more out there that they can be and do and feel.

“We can’t do anything major (to raise self-esteem), but we can use art to help,” Andrus said. “We give them a different identity. They need to feel empowerment and confidence to withstand the temptations of society they need a strong sense of self.”

And the children have been quite receptive. Even the tough kids who are a little older still can be helped. At School 57—a challenge at times for Andrus—one of the toughest boys found a way to express himself through art.

“George was like the ‘gang leader’,” Andrus said. “The student teachers thought he wasn’t enjoying Art Partners or getting through to him. At our last session with these fourth and fifth graders George started crying because he knew we were going to be leaving. I just told the kids (student teachers) you can’t quit early and always have faith.”

But Andrus has been busy. Her biggest concern is keeping the program going and expanding. She does most of the work and grant writing on her own time. All of the supplies and projects are kept at her home. The program takes a lot of time and effort as it is a real teaching course including lesson plans and project assessment. Fortunately Art Partner has received funding from the Center for Development of Human Services and Erie County Legislator Crystal Peoples and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery offers exhibit space in its education wing, but Andrus is always looking for more donations and help. But even with her busy schedule, Andrus realizes the impact she is having on her students and community for generations to come.

“It gives my students a look at an alternative view to art education and helping the community,” she said. “We need to spread the word around the country.”

For more information, exhibit pictures and course examples check out www.artpartnersprogram.com.

By Nicole Schuman

For ten years Professor Lucy Andrus has brought art and inspiration to the Buffalo inner city schools when they’ve needed it most. Her volunteer program, Art Partners, promotes equity, diversity and access to art experiences for all children.