Heather Olson is the Founder & Chief Marketing Officer at Soladay Olson | Marketing for Creatives. She has been an Art Buddies volunteer for several years, first mentoring during the early years of Art Buddies in the 1990s, and subsequently mentoring for three semesters in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Heather is a former Art Buddies Advisory Board member and now serves on the Art Buddies Board of Directors.
How would you describe Art Buddies to someone who has never heard of the program?
Art Buddies pairs creative-minded adults with 8-11 year old inner-city kids one afternoon a week for a couple of months in a large group school-based setting. During this time, we build an aspirational costume together and develop a one-on-one relationship for a child who may rarely experience it.
Why did you decide to become active with Art Buddies?
Art Buddies is a personal alternative to my professional volunteering roles. As a marketing business owner, I am heavily involved in AIGA, the professional association for design: I hold a chapter board position, am a past president and a Fellow, and I serve on multiple committees. Those activities directly enhance my professional experience.
Art Buddies allows me to enhance my personal side: The program teaches me about the multicultural flavor of our community… the need under-privileged kids have for a caring adult in their lives… the beauty that can arise in the simplest shared activity.
What advice would you give to rookie Art Buddies?
I recommend adult Art Buddies let their child take the lead. As a parent who offered my own children more guidance than they probably appreciated, I definitely follow my young buddy’s directions. That’s what the kids love most—the chance to be listened to, respected, and honored for their ideas.
If my buddy asks me for advice or struggles to construct something or make a decision, I definitely help. But most children are definitive about their vision and they show me how to create it!
Tell us about a unique or interesting experience with your Art Buddy that inspired you.
Some of the children are quiet, reserved, and timid. It can take a few sessions to make a connection. One such girl, Shaunna, shared few words with me, but she chose them well; I could see her mind working.
She carried a set of colored markers in an artists’ case to our first session. When I asked about them, she said her relatives “commission” her to do artwork. Another student came by and asked politely to borrow a marker. Shaunna told me that was her twin sister Shannon, one of her 20 siblings!
During the second session, Shaunna sketched an idea for her costume right away, but couldn’t tell me who or what the character was meant to be. I asked, is it an artist or someone she knew, like a friend or cousin? Her eyes lit up and she said, “It’s my mom!”
At the end of the third session, Shaunna had already left and I was heading out of the school to my car. Suddenly, I heard a tiny voice coming from a truck across the street. “Goodbye, Heather!” I knew I’d formed a link with Shaunna.
Have you gained new friendships or expanded your network with adult Art Buddies during the program?
A few years ago, one of my adult Art Buddies tablemates and I became friendly quickly. She had to miss a session or two so I filled in for her, and she was looking for career guidance, so we met outside of the program. I became her unofficial design mentor and our friendship blossomed. I ended up attending her wedding, visiting the house they bought, and watching her new career grow!
This past spring, I had fun getting to know numerous new adult buddies…an advertising copywriter, a few agency art directors, a product designer, an in-house marketing coordinator, a web designer, a sound engineer, a real estate agent, a design freelancer, and graphic design students. Talk about a networking opportunity!
What are some of your favorite costume creations and what inspired your Art Buddy to choose that costume?
1) Alani as “Persimmon Princess,” based on a photo we discovered in a book combined with plastic fruit and leaves I found in my “basement treasure box.”
2) Ayana as “Queen of England,” influenced by flowing, gauzy and satin pink fabrics that became a dress.
3) Shaunna as “My Mother at Age 10,” designated by a black felt vest with gold buttons, a finger-knitted scarf, angel wings, and a staff festooned with ribbons.
Art Buddies accepts mentor applications every fall and spring. Learn how you can volunteer with Art Buddies at http://www.artbuddies.org/volunteer/.
[Photos courtesy Doug Knutson Photography]