Five questions with Kathleen O’Connor, interim director, Art on Wheels

Art on Wheels goes further than giving people access to fun art activities. Its goal is to help the whole person by way of art. So, when Art on Wheels says it wants to meet you where you are, they literally mean just that – heading out into the community to put on personalized art programming.

Kathleen O’Connor, interim director of Art on Wheels, explains how art can affect people in a multitude of ways, even across generations.

We were excited to catch up with O’Connor to learn more about Art on Wheels and what to expect in the future.

What is Art on Wheels core mission? 

Art on Wheels’ mission statement is to provide communities with access to arts programming, those who wouldn’t otherwise have that access. We work mostly with adults. We have three umbrellas in our programming that are class-based, and those class-based programs are healing in the arts, arts and disability and aging in the arts. Those are pretty heavily adult oriented, but our community programs, which are like large community art installations, are for everybody.

We’re seeing older adults coming with their grandkids to engage with these public art initiatives. 

Can you characterize the extent of the problem Art on Wheels addresses locally?

We’re working with communities that have a wide variety of barriers to accessing arts programming. What it means is that were traveling to communities to meet folks where they are to provide them with the type of arts programming that you would traditionally see in arts community centers. This is art programming that gets more in depth in things like printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, painting and drawing.

There’s also this component of connecting those communities that we work with to this idea that art provides not only a creative outlet, but a healing experience. A lot of the times, the communities that we’re working with, due to issues around mobility, geography, socio-economic status, are also the same communities that face challenges to accessing truly holistic healthcare experiences. We’re trying to plug in the arts as part of that holistic experience. We believe that the arts are therapeutic.

What do you think most people don’t realize or understand?

That’s a really big question and that’s kind of top of mind for us right now, because we’re going through strategic planning. One of the things that I have probably heard most from people at public art engagements is that they did not know about our class-based programs. We as an organization, in the almost 14 years that we’ve been around, have become so well known for these big, public arts initiatives. Again, people don’t even realize that the bulk of our programming really is the classes.

What kind of work do volunteers do to help Art on Wheels? 

They do so much. Pre-pandemic when we had in person classes, we had class-based volunteers who were regular volunteers working with our participant artists in those classes. We have volunteers who help us with fundraising, marketing, our public art events and assembling some of our kits right now, in a pretty limited capacity. You know pretty much anything and everything you could think of that we do at some point, especially pre-pandemic, we had volunteers helping us make that happen because we have such a small staff. For the amount of outreach that we do, it’s pretty amazing. We need those volunteers.

If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, how would you spend it? 

It would go right back into our partnerships with our program partners and making sure that they don’t have to say no to our classes because of budget. That’s been one of the hardest parts of the past year is that everyone’s budgets have been cut. We have had some program partners who have had to pause because of that, and we’re finally in a position where we can work together again. I don’t want to ever have to see that happen or turn a program away because of their budget. 

To learn more about Art on Wheels, visit its website, or follow it on Facebook and Instagram. You can also donate directly to the organization here.

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