Kids at Play: Philadelphia’s Community Arts Festival 2011

Image courtesy InLiquid.

The Philadelphia Community Arts Festival (called “CAFe”) was created in 2010 to meet two lofty goals: to “reaffirm our communities’ commitment to supporting our young artists and environmentalists,” and “discover fantastic education programs throughout the city.” This year, my colleague Gigi Naglak and I were thrilled to set up a CHF booth amidst food trucks and musical acts to participate in this mighty effort. And over the course of the afternoon an important lesson was learned: to win the hearts and minds of children, just add tie-dye.

Like the other organizations present, we used the arts as an entrance to talk about environmental concerns—particularly the spread of pollution. First we invited kids to make their own tie-dyed fabric swatches, creating designs on cloth with a rainbow of Sharpie markers before coating their creations in squirts of isopropyl alcohol. While we all watched the alcohol break apart the pigment molecules in the ink, causing the colors to bleed across the fibers, blending in kaleidoscopic patterns, we asked the kids to consider this process as a metaphor for how pollution disseminates in the air, waterways, and more. “That ink is going to spread even if you intended for it to stay in place,” Gigi said, wielding a squirt bottle.

Did the lesson hit home? Hard to say. But it’s likely that the more kids are exposed to these connections and the more they are presented with related questions, the greater the chance they will be able to develop a nuanced understanding of how their actions effect the world around them. Today’s tie-dye might be food for thought when faced with, say, tomorrow’s oil spill. It’s crucial we arm the next generation with critical thinking skills to sort out what are likely to be increasingly complex problems—and if you have to start somewhere, why not the bright fuchsia tip of a Sharpie?

Jennifer Dionisio is a program associate at CHF’s Eddleman Institute.

Karabots Kids [Chemical Heritage]
Environmental Box Kit [CHF Collections]

Posted In: Education

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