Thu, Feb 3rd 2011 11:00 am
Section: Making a Difference
A Community Approach to Promoting Literacy
By Lisa Littlewood
Above: Read to Succeed art by Colleen Darby and Marybeth Cunningham.
you walk up the sloped ramp towards the library entrance at Clinton and
Fenton Street in Buffalo, you'll notice a white banner hanging on the
brick wall. A reproduction of a painting by local artist Vivian Boyd, it
depicts a white-haired woman smiling as she reads to a young girl; a
grandmother and granddaughter, you assume.
a nice picture, subtle in many ways. But it might surprise you to learn
the banner is actually part of a larger initiative by Read to Succeed
Buffalo (RTSB) to foster family literacy. It's an initiative hoping to
draw on the power of the visual arts to encourage a passion for the
written word, and its response has been extraordinary.
many of us grew up in homes full of books, those who work at RTSB can
quickly rattle off startling statistics. They have found there are homes
all around Buffalo without a child-appropriate book in the house, that
close to one-third of Buffalo residents are illiterate and that many of
the children coming from these homes are starting kindergarten two years
behind in reading skills and never catch up to their peers.
community art project started back in the spring when RTSB put out a
call for local artists to submit original artwork depicting the idea of
literacy. It was an idea executed successfully in Ithaca and Syracuse
and one the organization hopes will have a similar response here.
of artists submitted work for consideration and members of the Read to
Succeed coalition narrowed the submissions down to the 12 pieces they
felt were most reflective of the message they wanted to send — that
literacy needs to be a family affair, that it starts with parents
reading to their children and that teaching a child to read is a gift
that will reward them in many ways throughout their lives.
art has since been turned into 9-by-12 foot banners that are hanging
outside libraries and community centers throughout the city of Buffalo.
It will also be displayed for the public as a traveling art show which
started at City Hall in late October. Currently at the Central Library,
it will eventually move on to other participating branches and locations
throughout Buffalo. (Locations will be posted on readtosucceedbuffalo.org
; currently, it is on display at the Audubon branch of the library in Amherst.)
can write a lot about why it is important to read and what family
literacy looks like," says Helene Kramer, executive director at Read to
Succeed Buffalo, "but there's nothing as powerful as art as a way to
convey the joy of reading. It puts a vision to the message. We can show
what it looks like visually rather than just talking about it."
the piece by Colleen Darby, a local artist who enjoys utilizing her
passion for art to make a positive difference in people's lives. Darby's
piece, hanging at the Riverside library branch, is a whimsical drawing
of a family of four with a book open. Popping out of the book are words
such as "dream", "adventure", "transform" and "experience."
was trying to convey that there are so many possibilities with
reading," Darby says. "It can take you on an adventure ... Part of the
reason I wanted to get involved is that when you give a child the
ability to read, it is something that can never be taken away from
For more information on Read to Succeed Buffalo, or to make a donation or become a volunteer, call 843-8895 or visit readtosucceedbuffalo.org.