The Children’s Art Centre was incorporated in 1914 under the direction of FitzRoy Carrington, curator of prints at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Albert J. Kennedy, an administrator at the South End Settlement House. The Art Centre was closely tied to the settlement houses in Boston’s South End, which, in partnership with the United Way, the Children’s Aid Society, and the Massachusetts Trade League, focused on improving housing conditions, public health and sanitation, and on developing cultural and educational programs for adults and children.

FitzRoy Carrington believed Boston’s children would enjoy and benefit from exposure to fine art. In 1913, Carrington arranged an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts of prints of interest to children. After this successful exhibition, he worked towards establishing, as he described, “a little museum, wherein could be shown works of art, few in number, of a high order of merit, which by their subject and beauty would appeal to children, and incidentally serve as an appropriate and inspirational background for classes in design, story-telling and kindred activities.” He originally envisioned a group of museums so that children all over the city could experience fine art firsthand. In 1915, the Settlements Museum Association was formed in Massachusetts. The Children’s Art Center evolved from meetings of this Association and with the financial assistance of Carrington’s friends. The Art Centre opened in May 1918 and it soon became an essential part of the community and a neighborhood tradition.


The art on display was exhibited at children’s eye-level and children were also allowed to touch some of the objects on display. When the Art Centre first opened, the exhibits displayed mostly facsimiles, but in the 1930s, under the direction of Charlotte Dempsey, the Art Centre’s monthly exhibitions featured material loaned from local artists and galleries to expose children to the best examples of contemporary art. The Art Centre maintained a connection with the Museum of Fine Arts, displaying objects loaned from the Museum as well as from private collectors. Dempsey also developed art classes for children and arranged visits and demonstrations by professional artists, dancers, musicians, storytellers, and zoo animals for life drawing. The goal of the Art Centre was to foster an appreciation of art and to inspire children to use their imaginations to the fullest extent. Thousands of children visited the Art Centre every year to view the exhibitions and listen to concerts, and take classes. Art created in these classes has been exhibited locally and internationally in over 35 countries, including India, South Korea, South Africa, China and New Zealand.

In 1949, the Children’s Art Centre, and the Ellis Memorial, Hale, Lincoln, South End and Harriet Tubman Houses formed the South End Area Planning Group. The group was created to study a two-year survey of settlement houses in the South End that had been conducted by the United Community Services of Metropolitan Boston. The results of the survey indicated that resources and funding could be used more effectively if they were shared among area settlement houses. In 1951, based on the findings of this survey, the five settlement houses and the Children’s Art Centre agreed to share their resources and formed the Federation of South End Settlements. Eventually, Ellis Memorial left this group. In 1960, the Children’s Art Centre, along with South End House, Hale House, Lincoln House and the Harriet Tubman house merged, and the Federation of South End Settlements incorporated into the United South End Settlements (USES). USES has been an important participant in the redevelopment and rehabilitation of the South End since its inception.

The Children’s Art Centre continued offering classes and exhibitions through the 1980s. Funding issues in the 1990s resulted in the closure of the Art Centre for five years. With contributions from the city of Boston, and through the efforts of architect Priscilla Lowell, writer Joan FitzGerald Denny, members of the USES Board of Directors and others, the Art Centre reopened in 1997, after raising nearly $200,000. In 2000, a capital campaign was launched to raise the necessary funds to renovate the Art Centre and make it a more modern and accessible building. The Children’s Art Centre remains an important part of Boston’s South End. Courses continue to be offered to local children and students; visual arts classes are available as well as dance and music courses, through a partnership with the New England Conservatory of Music. The Art Center also offers a Teen Portfolio class, free to Boston Public High School students, to help guide teens through the process of creating a professional portfolio to use when applying for college.