Programs and Classes

For its first 15 years, the Children’s Art Centre served primarily as a museum exhibiting prints and items on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts. Visiting children were given pencils and paper if they wished to sit down and copy one of the works on display. In the 1930s, director Charlotte Dempsey put an end to this copying of artwork and developed more innovative classes for children.
The classes offered were intended to cultivate young artists; the classes focused on painting and other fine arts, rather than on crafts. Activities included painting, printmaking, collage, construction, sculpture, drawing, batik, and clay work. Dempsey also organized demonstrations by professional artists, performances by musicians, dancers, puppeteers, storytellers and circus performers, visits from zoo animals for life drawing classes, and field trips to local museums, such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Former Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot was impressed by the Children’s Art Centre’s mission. He said, “The movement [the Art Center has] set on foot is in accord with the best doctrines now advocated for the improvement of American education…doctrines which relate to the training of the senses…and to the cultivation in all children of delight in natural and artistic beauty.”



The classes offered by the Children’s Art Centre impacted the lives of students, some of whom become professional artists: Harlem Renaissance painter Allan Rohan Crite, for whom a square near the Art Centre is named; printmaker Leslie Richmond Simmons; prominent architect David Handlin, and large-scale mosaicist David Holleman, whose work can be found in Temple Israel Boston, the New York Board of Education and Dartmouth College. Former student, Nick Haddad, explains the importance of the Art Centre: “One thing the Centre did well was to connect us little kids to the outside world, get us to see things beyond the neighborhood….So many things were going on in the South End in those years, but the art and music classes were a constant.”
The Children’s Art Centre continues to offer art, language, music and dance classes to children and teens in Boston’s South End. According to the USES website, the Art Centre is a “special neighborhood gathering place where residents of all ages can explore their creativity under the guidance of experienced practicing artists.” To view examples of art work created by students at the Art Centre, visit the Artwork and Poetry section of the exhibit.