Thursday night, I went to a fundraiser, called #onthefridge, for Art Road. This group arranges supplies and teachers for art classes and programs for schoolchildren in Detroit and southeast Michigan.
It does more than that, but that’s the core mission: Let kids have an art class. Too many schools across the U.S. have had to cut those classes.
The event was hosted by automotive supplier Lear, with Mercedes-Benz Financial Services the night’s second major sponsor. A neighbor who works for Lear in interior color design had invited me.
The event celebrated Art Road’s 10th anniversary and featured displays from events and classes from each of those years. In celebration of the “aluminum” anniversary, this year’s big project was creating sculptures from aluminum ladders, pop cans and spray paint.
Those were cool, but I was more drawn to some of the earlier years’ artworks, especially those related to cars.
In 2012, Art Road gave kids hubcaps and paint and said, “Go for it.” One of the instructors had gathered scrap hubcaps from the side of roads for a year to show the children that trash could be turned into art. Very Detroit, in the spirit of Tyree Guyton. Some of the resulting work was quite good. All of it looked like they had fun.
In 2013, in a project called Kids & Cars, Lear automotive designers led a class at the Charles Wright Academy of Arts and Science, teaching fourth-grade students how to draw and create cars of the future.
One group came up with ideas for what should go into car seats besides fanny heaters. Some of the ideas were pure kid: dispensers for gumballs and pizza, popcorn and Popsicles. Hey, why not?
But others made me think, seriously, why not? One design had straps to hold bookbags on the back of seats, where airplane tray tables are, so kids in the back would have a place for their bags.
Another imagined customized headrests and sketched out ones with the names “Angel” and “Jordan” on adjoining seats. If you want to get your kid in the seat, and separated from the sibling so they don’t squabble, that’s a pretty good idea.
In another session, students were taught about color, design and the weave and lines that go into seat fabric, and then they were invited to come up with seat-fabric patterns and designs.
Yes, the students had stencils to help them. But their work was meticulous, creative and surprisingly good looking.
Why art matters
Cynics might say these are do-gooders providing a one-off fun class that may or may not have any lasting effect. I disagree.
First, studies have shown that young people who participate in art are twice as likely to read for pleasure, three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, and four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair and to be recognized for academic achievement.
Second, the auto industry needs all the creative minds it can get. And history, going back to an obscure farm family named Ford, proves we don’t know where those minds will be found.