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Change Agent

Creative Connections links kids worldwide through art

US students partner with children from one of nearly 50 other countries to exchange their artworks and then share ideas face-to-face via a videoconference.

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Steckler, an American, graduated from college in the United States, but got a job teaching in England, where he stayed for 11 years. Upon returning to the US, he says, he was surprised how insular his students seemed. After teaching at public and private US schools he studied for a master’s degree at Bank Street College in New York City.

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But instead of teaching again, Steckler says, he wanted to develop a program where children around the world could meet as equals and have a real exchange.
For him, art proved to be the great equalizer. This is important for US children, who may have more material wealth than a student in Guatemala or somewhere in Africa, he says.

The American students learn about a different kind of "richness of their lives that’s pretty neat,” he says.

Creative Connections now has more than 3,000 pieces of student art in its collection. Each piece is protected under plastic. A short biography, an explanation of the piece, and photo of the artist is taped to the back of each one.

“There is a great joy for all of us when the art comes in. It’s always so charming to read about [the children's] likes and dislikes, what they want to be when they grow up,” says Polly Loughran, Creative Connection’s program director.

While the international schools don’t pay a fee to participate in ArtLink, American schools pay between $600 and $700. Grants and donations help fund the program in underprivileged US schools. About 40 percent of the exchanges are fully or partially funded, Steckler says.

Creative Connections also sponsors the International Young Performers’ Tour, which introduces American youths to dancers and musicians from other countries. In the past artists from Russia, China, India, Colombia, Ireland, and Cambodia have performed on area stages.

But it’s more than just a performance. The tour provides a look behind the curtain of what life is like for the visiting performers in their home country.

Abantu Mu Buntu, a Ugandan Children’s Music Troupe, will visit Connecticut and Westchester, N.Y., this April. After the performance students will watch videos about what school and home life is like for the dancers.

“We’re not an arts program,” Steckler says. “We’re about changing attitudes and minds.”

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