Story by: Michael Outlaw, Community Liaison, City of Erie | Photos by: Monica Z. Gustin, Digital Media and Design Specialist, City of Erie
Nestled in a housing complex on Erie’s east side is a hidden hub of creativity.
In Apartment 2110-C, one of 436 apartments in the John E. Horan Garden Apartments, about 10 children of different ethnicities fill the two-room space on a recent afternoon. The kids, full of life, form ceramic art pieces while laughing, playing, and snacking on lunch. They proudly show off their creations. The clay pieces reflect the creativity of a child’s mind: A character from the movie “Shrek,” a sunflower and many heart-shaped pottery pieces.
Taking it all in near the snack table was Jennifer Dennehy, 38, Program Director and Dance Teaching Artist for the Dafmark Creative Arts and Library Center, which provides art instruction and tutoring for under-performing students who attend Edison Elementary and East Middle School, which serve some of the children who live in the John Horan Garden Apartments.
But today, there are no textbooks open on the desks. It’s all about clay slabs, ribbon tools and drying racks. This newly established program was made possible by a $57,100 ARP grant from the City of Erie.
“The ARP grant has been instrumental in supporting this new initiative started by Dafmark in 2021,” said Dennehy.
The program runs year-round on weekdays and serves kids from the age of 6-18 who live in the Horan homes, which are administered by the Housing Authority of the City of Erie.
Dafmark used the grant to hire staff to run the Creative Art and Library Center’s operations, purchase art supplies, provide stop-motion animation classes, and ballet shoes,” said Dennehy. In addition to fueling the creative minds in Apartment 2110-C, the grant also enabled students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, YMCA Teen Center, and St. Martin Center to attend professional dance performances at Dafmark’s dance studio, located at 1033 State St.
“This ARP grant was a great support during the launch phase of the Dafmark Creative Arts Center program, helping to take it from possibly being just a short-term program to something that is now building sustainability with a long-term plan to become a fixture in the Erie community for years to come,” Dennehy.
“The goal is to expand the program while keeping it in the John E. Horan Garden Apartments and building a state-of-the-art facility with more space and rooms,” said Dennehy. “Erie is home (to Dafmark), and a beautiful community. Dafmark is thankful for the ARP dollars to support preventative programs for inner city-youth.”