Art and About

When art feeds: Small Steps' at-risk kids benefit from Empty Bowls, give creative thanks

When art feeds: Small Steps' at-risk kids benefit from Empty Bowls, give creative thanks

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Children attend Small Steps tuition-free. Photo by Paula Murphy
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Led by classroom teacher Denise Wilborn, students at Small Steps Nurturing Center in the First Ward use their artistic skills to create two-dimensional bowls and raise awareness for the Houston Food Bank. Photo by Paula Murphy
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Using a variety of techniques, these bowls will be assembled in a large banner and displayed at the Empty Bowls Houston event on March 19 at Lawndale Art Center and Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Photo by Paula Murphy
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It's no secret that I love creative pursuits, especially when they are used for the greater good.

Capturing that spirit, a hop and a skip from CultureMap's offices is the First Ward campus of Small Steps Nurturing Center, a privately-funded, tuition-free preschool that serves at-risk students. With an unusually low student-to-teacher ratio, Small Steps educators have the opportunity to influence children in their formative years, intervening early and helping them develop and journey on a productive path.

Denise Wilborn, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher, has that rare calm effervescence and nurturing disposition that makes adults reflect back on their impressionable years with nostalgia, realizing years later that their experience was quite different from others' upbringing.

Inspired by last year's Empty Bowls Houston, a fundraising event benefiting the Houston Food Bank, Wilborn came up with a project to integrate the event's efforts with a communal classroom assignment. 

"I wanted to find a way to give back," Wilborn said. "The students at Small Steps are recipients of the Houston Food Bank. Our kitchen staff goes on a regular basis. I try to work with my kids each year to do some type of service project. We are so blessed and gifted with so much." 

Empty Bowls, while serving as a symbol of those who suffer of hunger locally and worldwide, collects a myriad of bowls donated by local artisans, hand-crafted in varying mediums. And for $25 at Lawndale Art Center and at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft on Saturday, guests will receive a light lunch and walk away with a bowl of their choice.

Now in its seventh year, the event raises needed funds in an attempt to eradicate food insecurity.

To enhance the function's festive environment, Wilborn challenged her students to create their own two-dimensional bowls using different artistic techniques including collage, golf ball painting, tearing tissue paper and stamping. These would then be arranged together to compose a large banner to be hung at Lawndale on the day of the event. 

"It's our way of saying thank you to the artists who created the bowls and gave them away using their gifts, talents and materials.," Wilborn said. "And we used our gifts, talents and materials to say thank you to them and to the Food Bank."

The children loved creating them and working together. I and enjoyed watching them. Children have so much influential power. More than they realize. 

Joel Luks goes "Art and About" at Small Steps Nurturing Center and witnesses children at their creative best: