Pittsburgh has many museums and art attractions, but not all children have access to those amenities. That's where the Citiparks Roving Art Cart comes in. For four decades it has provided free hands-on art projects in nature's studio -- neighborhood parks and playgrounds -- to youth around the city.
"We're serving the underserved," said Nancy Burns, manager of the Citiparks community enrichment program. "It benefits children to be creative and to express themselves in a non-competitive way."
Today the cart opens its 40th season at the Allegheny Commons Park (West Commons) near the National Aviary on the North Side. It will tour the city 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays through Aug. 16. An estimated 6,000 children are served over the nine weeks.
It's also available at select community festivals and special events year-round.
In 1973, an actual cart on wheels was pulled by a trailer around the city. Today, project stations are set up under colorfully decorated tents. The layout varies depending on the outdoor space and many measures are met to ensure security of the tents and safety of the children.
The arts education coordinator, Leona Frankowski, said it's "more like a mini festival, because you really couldn't do a cart today."
The stations offer new and retro art projects. Children can paint, sculpt, bead, work on multimedia and technical projects, star in their own comic strip, create bicycle-powered spin art and more. There is also a digital photo station -- which is part of the "1,000 Smiles Campaign" -- where kids' smiles may be featured as the "Smile of the Day."
The program hosts guest artists and entertainers, in addition to the regular staff members.
"It's problem solving," Ms. Burns said. "Anytime a child can do something from beginning to end, and feels satisfied by it, you're building their confidence. There are no mistakes at easel painting. It just becomes something else."
Activities are best suited for children ages 5 to 12. All children should be supervised, but children younger than 5 must have caretaker engagement in the activities. Groups of 10 or more are encouraged to make reservations. The cart operates rain or shine.
The art cart is supported by the Allegheny Regional Asset District and city funds, in addition to donations from local universities and other individuals. About $20,000 is spent on fuel, staff salaries and materials every summer.
Ms. Burns hopes the program will be able to continue for at least another decade.
"We try to bring out the very best supplies," Ms. Frankowski said. "It's just a beautiful and fun thing to do. It's not so difficult that you have to be Van Gogh to do it. It's fun, it's free."
Katie Foglia: email@example.com or 412-263-4903. First Published June 18, 2013 4:00 AM