International Child Art Foundation
Enhancing children’s creative potential and fostering global harmony are the two key challenges we face in the 21st century.
Research in neuroscience and other behavioral sciences indicates that creativity is universal. All healthy human brains are creative. A creative predisposition is wired in at birth and every child intuitively wants to express it. But when a child’s creativity is not encouraged, it may be lost forever. E. Paul Torrance has documented a “4th-grade slump” across cultures in the creative and imaginative lives of children. When children begin school, their level of creativity is evident and often flourishing, but by the time they reach 4th grade, they are more conforming, less likely to take risks, and less playful or spontaneous than in earlier years. This decline continues throughout the school years and into adulthood if creativity is not nurtured.
In Encyclopedia of Creativity, psychologist Mark Runco has noted that the “4th grade slump” can relate to maturational processes or to an emphasis on conforming behavior, but in either case it can be overcome. Scientists David Bohm and F. David Peat have called for a general creative surge in all areas of life. They consider creativity a basic human need, which, when thwarted, makes a civilized society lose its ability to defend against debasing and destructive forces.
Nurturing children’s creativity alone does not guarantee sustainable prosperity and peace. Empathy must be cultivated as well. Recent neuroscientific research shows that empathy is hard-wired in the human brain, which is most likely the result of evolutionary processes. The brain recognizes that we need to work together to improve life and preserve our fragile planet, but our base and selfish instincts dominate. Social researchers have found empathy to be a salient characteristic of successful learners and leaders.
Why the Arts
Art is the native language of children and a powerful universal tool for nurturing children’s innate creativity. Research indicates that a child who is exposed to the arts acquires a special ability to think creatively, be original, discover, innovate and create intellectual property – key attributes for individual success and social prosperity in the 21st century.
Art programs can engage a school or community to address the emotional and social needs of children, especially those at risk with verbal weaknesses because art allows them to capitalize on their visual strengths and benefit from visual learning.
Children through their art can make the world a more peaceful place. They can do a lot more than adults realize, and creating pictures, designs and illustrations about how to make the world safer, cleaner, and kinder is a great place to start.
Despite the importance of the arts for innovation, prosperity and nonviolence, there was no national arts organization for American children and no international children’s art organization for the world’s children. The International Child Art Foundation was established in 1997 to fill these voids.
ICAF has been a pioneering force in effectively and systematically bringing about a change in public awareness with respect to children’s creative and empathic development. ICAF focuses primarily on children aged 8 to 12 because of the “4th grade slump.” These formative years are also vital for the encouragement of empathy and moral-cognitive thinking.
ICAF integrates the arts with science, sport and technology for the development of children’s innate creativity and intrinsic empathy – preconditions for a better world.
The Arts Olympiads, World Children’s Festivals, interactive exhibitions, and ChildArt magazine inspire children to embrace lifelong creativity, boost their self-esteem, and build trust and mutual understanding. ICAF’s research, lesson plans, and Sketches newsletter provide teachers and parents the tools they need to enhance the creative potential and empathic capacity of every child.
The Arts Olympiad
Every four years ICAF launches the Arts Olympiad, a free program for 8- to 12-year-old children worldwide. Commencing with structured lesson plans, the Arts Olympiad leads to thematic art competitions in which students also serve as judges. Communities and countries exhibit selected artworks to celebrate the creativity and imagination of their children. The Arts Olympiad winners are honored at the World Children’s Festival, traditionally held quadrennially on the National Mall in Washington DC. This week-long celebration and training builds a global creative community of the future.
Public awareness of the importance of creativity and empathy is promoted through interactive exhibitions at Olympic venues in the final year of the program. The U.S. Olympic Committee has granted ICAF an exclusive license to use “Arts Olympiad” and related marks.
The Arts Olympiad’s theme My Favorite Sport celebrates ICAF’s “artist-athlete” ideal of a creative mind and healthy body. The lesson plan encourages artistically-inclined to develop their physical abilities and inspires athletically-inclined to be creative.
Canal Futura, Brazil’s educational television, translated the Arts Olympiad Lesson Plan into Portuguese and involved 484 schools and an estimated 29,000 students in the 3rd Arts Olympiad.
The Shanghai Cultural Development Foundation partnered with several organizations and businesses to involve nearly one million children in China in the art competition.
In Israel, Dr. Naomi Jaffe of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport, states:
“The Arts Olympiad has become a great national celebration in Israel.”
At the community level, the Arts Olympiad develops empathy invoked through art and team spirit instilled by sport.
At the Olympic Center outside Zagreb, First Lady Milka Mesic hosted a two-day celebration in February 2006 for the 30 Croatian
Arts Olympiad semi-finalists. The children stayed in dorms normally reserved for Olympic athletes and interacted with Gordan Kozulj, Croatia’s star swimmer.
In Ethiopia, the African Child Policy Forum translated the Arts Olympiad Lesson Plan into Amharic, and received 3,268 art competition entries.
In the urban square of the Sharjah Art Museum in UAE, 18 best artworks were displayed on October 12, 2005 for the judges to select the UAE Arts Olympiad winners. With clipboards in hand, the judges stopped at each easel, took notes and carefully made their selections.
Many children never have the opportunity to make art unless presented with the Arts Olympiad experience.
Forty-four students with physical and mental handicaps at the Spring Branch Independent School District in Texas participated in the 3rd Arts Olympiad. The organizers, Jody and David Butler, had traveled to Greece and Italy to study ancient sculptures and their relationship to modern Olympics. Children participated in twelve activities that combined art and sport. USA Track & Field 2000 Olympian, Eric Thomas, presented awards to the “artist-athletes.”
World Children’s Festival
ICAF is a world leader in the designing, planning and staging of educational festivals for children. ICAF has the distinction of organizing the first-ever national children’s art festival in the United States, held on the National Mall in Washington DC in September 1998. ICAF has also organized the first-ever European Children’s Festival, held at the Olympia Park in Munich in June 2006.
The World Children’s Festivals are hosted every four years as international celebrations of children’s creativity and imagination. At the first festival in June 1999, the Arts Olympiad finalists produced the spectacular 16x24-foot “World Mural.” First Ladies of Costa Rica, Ecuador and Liberia witnessed the collaborative process and saw children using art to break language and communication barriers. At the second festival in September 2003, artist George Rodrigue co-created the “Art for Peace Pyramid” with the children. The District of Columbia’s Mayor addressed the children on September 11, 2003 and issued an official proclamation dedicating that day as “Children’s Peace Day.”
Approximately 10,000 individuals attended the third festival in June 2007. The children, their parents, educators and cultural leaders from around the world created a complete synesthetic experience – a total work of art that transformed the National Mall. The festival became a turning point in children’s lives, a touchstone to guide them into the future.
“The whole World Child Festival experience was amazing… I met fellow young artist like me and I hope we stay in touch for a long time. The entire trip was an eye opener for me.”
- Jerrika Shi (age 9)
Philippines Arts Olympiad winner
“Words cannot express our gratitude to you! You made it possible to bring together the most gifted child artists in the world to meet each other, share experiences and develop their creative talents. The entire event exceeded our dreams!”
- Eszter Kovacs sister of Attila Kovacs,
Hungary Arts Olympiad winner
“We are thrilled to bring a LEGO building experience to the world’s largest celebration of creativity and imagination on the National Mall. What the International Child Art Foundation does to encourage a child’s inner creativity is something we passionately admire and are proud to support, because we believe children who are exposed to creative activities from a very young age go on to become the world’s most meaningful contributors.”
- Michael McNally, brand relations
director, LEGO Systems, Inc.
Peace through Art
In response to the September 11, 2001 tragedy, ICAF developed an innovative methodology in collaboration with psychiatrists and psychologists. The methodology inspires children to use their own creativity to reduce trans-generational transmission of trauma and hatred and build a vision of peaceful coexistence. The methodology was field-tested in 2002 in a program funded by the Cyprus Fulbright Commission which brought Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot youth to Washington, D.C. for three weeks. The UK’s leading medical journal The Lancet featured the approach in its December 2006 issue.
Based on the knowledge and experience gained from the treatment of child survivors of the September 11, 2001 tragedy and other disasters, ICAF launched a program in January 2005 to aid child victims of the Asian tsunami. Later that year, ICAF volunteers and art therapists used their tsunami experiences to help children affected by Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The first public exhibition of the Arts Olympiad winners’ masterpieces takes place on the National Mall across the National Gallery of Art during the World Children’s Festival.
The amazing works and the murals produced at the festivals have been exhibited at major events in Washington, DC, New York City and around the world.
Several universities, including Harvard, have held ICAF exhibitions.
Outreach, Governance and Recognition
ICAF is a world leader in children’s art programs, exhibitions and festivals. ICAF serves as the leading national art and creativity organization for American children and the international art and creativity organization for the world’s children.
To date, more than 10 million children have directly benefited from participation in ICAF programs and festivals, or indirectly benefited within various capacities through ICAF exhibitions, publications, and research.
ICAF Executive Board has fiduciary responsibility and oversees operations. Prominent educators, artists and business leaders serve on ICAF Advisory Board. ICAF Youth Board, comprised of some of the most creative and imaginative children and young people in the world, stages the World Children’s Festivals and honors creative leaders with the World Children’s Awards.
ICAF has received the 2000 Bravo’s National Art Education Award, the 2004 the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation), and the 2004 World Cultural Open’s Exemplary Humanitarian Service Award.
“What you are doing reflects such a refreshingly integrated view of children's development -- a much-needed perspective in a time when children's growth and learning often seem to be approached in a very reductionistic, fragmented way.”
– Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, University of
“We must start with the education of our children in order for the following leaders to effectively handle the geopolitical and international problems that our world currently faces.”
For more information regarding this wonderful charity please check out http://www.icaf.org/