ArtReach Orlando was founded by Bickley Wilson in 2012 as a way to enrich the lives of today’s youth through the arts. Her vision was to create a safe environment for underprivileged children, where they could discover their creativity and build their self-esteem.
“It was literally a dream,” Wilson says of the beginning stages of founding the program.
One night, Wilson dreamt she bought a house that she would turn into an art studio. Throughout the course of the dream, the house was opened up to children so they could explore their creative sides.
“The only rules were that you couldn’t paint on each other and you couldn’t paint on the walls,” she remembers of that dream. A few years later, with the help of friends and family, she turned it into a reality and ArtReach Orlando was born.
The organization’s very first program was a week-long summer camp that was developed for the Bithlo area. It has since grown to reach children all over Central Florida. Other programs that encourage local children to discover their worth and chase their dreams were created in partnership with the help of local entities. This includes an in-school residency at Orange County Academy (OCA) in Bithlo, literary-based initiatives through the Orange County Public Library and an afterschool program called Creative U: Arts for Empowerment through the Orlando REP. In addition, mobile outreach programs bring ArtReach Orlando’s vision to local events.
Many children participating in these programs come from difficult economic and social backgrounds, but the creative process teaches them new coping mechanisms and builds their self-worth. By fostering creativity, Wilson and her team create a safe space for children to share feelings and learn how to take on life’s challenges. Wilson says the programs teach children that, “If somebody says something that you don’t understand, instead of criticizing, turn to wonder.”
Programs like the one at OCA typically last for nine weeks. Participants meet for two hours, twice per week. During that time, the children have an opportunity to learn about visual arts, theater and creative writing. It culminates into a final “share-formance” in front of their family, teachers and new friends. The new sense of self-confidence they built through those nine weeks make them excited to share their creations with their loved ones.
“I’ve had children at the end of a program cry because it was over and that just totally touched my heart,” Wilson says. If there is one thing she would say to any past, present or future students it would be “that your dreams can come true.”
ArtReach Orlando is a private, not-for-profit organization serving the Central Florida community. To learn more about how you can help, visit www.ArtReachOrlando.org.