Founded in 2006 by Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène, Time In is a pioneering, non-profit venture dedicated to bringing children out of at-risk schools and into HiArt! (a successful arts program founded by Bellen-Berthézène in 1997) as part of their regular school day. Time In offers children in underserved communities the experience of a larger, art-immersed world: the interdisciplinary curriculum focuses on opera and on 20th and 21st century art, involving gallery/museum visits as well as hands-on studio work. Recognizing children’s phenomenal gifts and their innate ability to engage with the arts, Time In offers them something real, something they can take with them through life, by showing them that the world around them is indeed their world, not someone else’s. In Bellen-Berthézène’s words: “Time In is not about a temporary bracing immersion in the river of art, but rather a basic training program for accomplishment.”
“Our childrenour own children and our neighbors’ children are OUR responsibility”
Cyndie Berthézène, founder of HiArt! and the Time In Children’s Arts Initiative
Confucius said: “If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of 10 years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” The New York-based organization Time Ina pioneering, non-profit venture created under the auspices of the New York Foundation for the Arts aims to do just that. Funded entirely by private, corporate and foundation contributions, the Time In Children’s Art Initiative at HiArt! brings children out of underserved classrooms and offers them the experience of a larger, art-immersed world as part of their regular school day. The children of PS 241, 242 and 63 FYI 241 + 242 are in Harlem and 63 is in Morrisania in the Bronx have gallery-hopped (literally hopping on one leg between galleries in Chelsea), attended operas, including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Shostakovich’s The Nose, and visited museums, such as the Whitney and the Guggenheim, that showcase 20th and 21st century art. The brainchild of Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène, Time In (founded 2006) grew out of the successful HiArt! program (founded 1997), which itself was born out of Bellen-Berthézène’s interactions with her own daughter.
With an emphasis on a broader kind of learning that takes into account the “whole child,” Bellen-Berthézène encourages children to engage in the vibrant world of contemporary art, not as spectators or consumers, but as artists themselves. She believes that art can bridge the gap between dream and reality and let loose aspects of imagination and creativity that can empower children and nurture future leaders. Art, as a form of therapy, is also well placed to serve the underprivileged community, where, even among children fortunate enough to have stable home lives, many contend with the spillover of peer issues in the classroom. “Making art is a way of exorcising fears and creating order in chaos,” says Bellen-Berthézène. The idea that kids be allowed to experience art on their own terms is central to her mission. “They see what’s beautiful,” she says, “and they understand very well when they are being accorded respect, and when people are taking them seriously.”
Bellen-Berthézène chose the name “Time In” she says, “because children who are ‘bad’ in school shouldn’t get a time out. They need a time in. They need to be in the real world, and have a chance to be who they are and be recognized for it. They need to have people say, ‘You can be great at this.’”
Now, in Time In’s fifth year, Bellen-Berthézène and her team are working with young students in Harlem and the Bronx, engaging with Monet’s late works at the Gagosian Gallery and fashioning prosthetic noses after watching Shostakovich’s opera. Envisaging a future where HiArt-Time In could expand to cities all over the country and around the world, Bellen-Berthézène says, “I’m determined to find a way of enabling all children to reach their highest potential. Why would any of us want the children of our neighborhoods to develop in any other way?”
Cyndie Berthézène, Founder and Director of HiArt! and Time In, speaks with Women’s Worldwide Web (W4)
W4: How did you come to create Time In?
CB: The idea for Time In was floating around in my head for a long time, but I was mystified about how to fund it and what shape it would take. While I was thinking it through, I set up a meeting with a leading funder of arts education and her program director, hoping that they would be swept away by my ideas. The program director was convinced that I would never get permission from the Board of Education and should pare down my ideas and simply incorporate them into an existing program. So I sat on the idea for a while longer.
An important turning point in how I was thinking about the program came about when David Bowie enrolled his daughter in HiArt! She was seven years old, and the minute she walked into my studio she was over the top with excitement. I thought: “Here is a child who can have absolutely everything, and she still thinks this is incredible. How powerful would this be for kids who have nothing?” At that moment it became clear to me that I just had to push forward.
It wasn’t easy. In 2006, armed with a team of well-wishers (but no money; only my credit card), I plunged in. I was extremely fortunate in that the Director of Arts Education for the Department of Education was the extraordinarily enlightened Sharon Dunn. I explained what I wanted to do, told her I would raise the money and present the program to the city as a gift. She loved the idea, and off we went.
Why did I create Time In? Our childrenour own children and our neighbors’ children—are OUR responsibility. We need to help them to grow up and become active, productive participants in the world around them. We need them to create a better, safer world for all of us. That’s why societies have created and sustained public education. But public education systems remain mired in antiquated ideas about the way children learn. They haven’t properly responded to the changes generated by huge waves of worldwide immigration, 21st century technology, communications, and so on. As it stands, the American educational system eschews real dialogue. The belief that all answers lie with the teacher stands at the foundation of educational interaction.
Art teaches us something different, and teaches us differently. The arts are not didactic, but dialogic, open, sharing: they provoke inquiry and thought. Because the artseven while treating complex subject matter emerge from the ludic, they are intrinsically understood by children. Children can engage, through the arts, with ideas and visions well beyond their assumed intellectual scope, allowing them to learn in different, less literal or straightforward ways. A kind of learning that will serve them in long-term ways social, aesthetic and intellectual.
I am passionately committed to the idea that we cannot afford to have “poor” kids. Why should children be discriminated against because their parents may not have money, good health, education, or a vision for their children’s future? If anyone believes that there is a difference in the capacity for engagement between the child of any privileged family and the at-risk children with whom Time In works, they should come to my studio immediately. Children are children. The world of the imagination is their domain.
W4: What challenges have you faced in establishing Time In?
CB: Probably the biggest challenges have to do with our conception, as a society, of what it should cost to offer service to poor kids—and the question of accountability.
At our first fundraising event, a parent whose children had been in my private program for years vociferously objected to the cost of providing the same services to at-risk kids. The prevailing belief is that if kids are “poor”, we need to serve as many of them as possible for as few dollars as possible.
Frankly, this is nonsense. As we all know, you get what you pay for. I aim to provide the highest, most effective level of service to kids who would otherwise never have access to it. I want to make the world possible for them in the same way that it is possible for my own daughter or David Bowie’s daughter. I want them to be able to learn in a way that empowers them, that gives them keys to ideas and the real world. Most importantly, I want adults to realize that these children ARE equals: their parents may not find it easy to provide, but that doesn’t change the capacity of the children. I can introduce you to any number of six-year-olds from Harlem who are every bit as amazing as I consider my own daughter to be. I want to see them blossom in the same way. I want them to have the joy of sharing their talents and intelligence and giving back from their youngest years. I want them to feel like the leaders they should be, not the leaders of gangs or groups based on fear and ignorance.
Of course, big ideas come at a big cost. Put together an amazing theatre production, a fantastic opera or an incredible film, and the cost is phenomenal. Yet the work we do with our kids is supposed to be cheap. I say: no. It costs me the same amount to serve Mort Zuckerman’s daughter as it does to serve Andre from PS 242 in Harlem. I am constantly working to develop the most advanced and thoughtful curricula, curricula that are flexible and responsive to the world we live in and to children’s needs. I search for the most incredible young artists to work alongside me, and a great priority is to make sure that they remain working artists. I need to ensure that they get enough money to allow them to work with my kids in the best frame of mind, and that they have the time they need to keep making and thinking about their own art. This gives them something meaningful to share with kids. Passion. Vision.
An anecdote: When I was 7, my family – which was not wealthy – moved from NYC to Great Neck for six months. Everything about my new school was beautiful. One day, a woman came in and told us about Peer Gynt. She played the music (Grieg) and we danced, independently, feeling the music and listening to her talk. I can still, to this day, see the room and hear the music. It changed my world. In one day, the world opened up. What if I could have had that experience in an ongoing way? How much could I have learned?
W4: How do you see arts education as a means for empowering disadvantaged children?
CB: The arts are a means for empowering ALL children and all people. By depriving at-risk children of an arts-infused, creative life as part of their regular school day – where they spend the majority of their time — WE disadvantage them.
W4: What methods do you use (either internally or externally) to evaluate the impacts of Time In on participating children?
CB: We look at the increase in art-making skills and at social development, how the kids behave, both with one another and out in the world. In the field (at galleries, etc.), we do a lot of work that requires the kids to learn rules and behave in appropriate ways. We constantly communicate with classroom teachers to get feedback about the differences observed in kids who have been at Time In. And we evaluate more intuitive aspects, such as their ability to engage with a particular piece of music over time – the sustained importance of an artwork to a child. For instance, we saw The Magic Flute in January, and, the following September, a child came into class and told me that she had been thinking about Papageno all summer. Another time, when we walked into the Guggenheim, a child asked if we were there to see the boats—referring to the Cai Guo-Qiang show that he had seen there the previous year. These children are developing cultural references, memories that ground them in the life of the city.
W4: How have children and their families responded to Time In’s programs?
CB: For kids, Time In is 100% heaven. There’s so much freedom – something the children rarely taste – but offered within a protective structure. They are safe, loved, and held in high esteem. Kids tell me all the time that they wish they could come every day. (If a child forgets a permission slip, the school principals report, you can hear the child weeping in the halls.)
Parents can be very positive or very negative. Some parents don’t understand what we’re trying to do, and they don’t always recognize the long-term value of a broader kind of learning. To return to Cai’s show at the Guggenheim: there was a piece (commissioned by Deutsche Bank) that featured wolves racing as a pack into a glass wall. For us, it was a chance to talk about thinking for oneself, versus the pack/gang mentality. Parents and teachers have an easier time if they are told that someone is coming into school to talk, directly, about gang violence, perhaps presenting a didactic film. But, with art, kids make the connections almost immediately: even if they can’t verbalize the ideas at the time, they will return to them six months later. This kind of teaching relies on a trust that someone can learn without having the learning reduced to something short-term and “testable.” This said, the majority of parents have been excited, supportive, and grateful that someone is giving their kids this kind of attention and these amazing opportunities.
W4: Do you have children? What led you to focus much of your career on arts enrichment for children as opposed to adults (Scholastic Art books for children, HiArt children’s art programs, Time In, etc.)?
CB: Absolutely! Everything I do has grown out of my interactions with my own daughter from the time she was born. Through her, I learned how phenomenal children’s learning capabilities are, and how, through play, children will joyfully make the most complicated, high-art ideas their own – continually honing and developing their minds and real-world skills without any fears. When my daughter was a year old, we started watching Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. She loved it and called it “Clowny.” One day, when she was 22 months old, we were watching the video and walked into the kitchen while it was still playing in the other room. From where we were, she could only hear the music; she couldn’t see the screen. Then, she turned to me and said, “The animals are coming.” My chin must have hit the floor. I realized that she had memorized the entire score of the ballet and knew it better than I did. I believe that my daughter is very smart and musically very gifted. But through HiArt! and Time In, I’ve learned that, in fact, most children have great capabilities. They just need the opportunity. (And, as for adult creativity: Frank Gehry said that it was his grandmother’s sitting on the floor with him, building cities with blocks, that taught him that adults have the right to play. We all know where that’s taken him.)
I see my daughternow almost 16 as fearlessly creative, intelligent, articulate, educated. She’s a maker: not afraid to have her own voice, one that is independent, yet rooted in a history of which she is thoroughly conscious. I only wish that I had had similar opportunities as a child. And I’m determined to find a way of enabling all children to reach their highest potential. Why would any of us want the children of our neighbourhoods to develop in any other way?
W4: What are your plans for Time In’s future?
CB: Time In needs serious supporters and funders in order for it to have a future. As an interdisciplinary program, we often fall outside of the categories in terms of which funders think. For instance, we have a powerful opera program teaching 2-3 operas every year to children as young as four years old, but because we are not exclusively opera based, opera funders don’t think of us when they’re looking for programs to fund. To ensure our future, we need to get beyond the day-to-day scramble for funding. We need enlightened patrons who share my belief in the future of at-risk children, of all of our children.
Once Time In is financially stable, I hope that we will expand to cities all over the country and around the world. I’d love to see a HiArt! Children’s Center for the Arts where kids can work, from infancy until they leave for college, with the finest artists in their field, flourishing in a kid-centric environment in which everyone teaching has been trained in the HiArt! methodology.
As for me, I’ll just keep yakking and yakking until people get it. But, as I say, just come in to see these kids at work (and bring a checkbook). One look at what goes on at Time In, and you’ll get it.
© Women’s WorldWide Web 2010