A Community Approach to Promoting Literacy
Forever Young Magazine
As 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.
It's 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.
While 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.
The 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.
Dozens 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.
The 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.)
"We 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."
Take 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."
"I 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 them."
For more information on Read to Succeed Buffalo, or to make a donation or become a volunteer, call 843-8895 or visit readtosucceedbuffalo.org.