About Art to Grow On


Inspiring creative growth through meaningful art experiences.


Our principal message is that children’s art cannot be taught, it's already there! Creativity can only be liberated and nurtured. Adults can best be instrumental in encouraging the creative development of children by being open to what students express and create, by providing an atmosphere of emotional safety where children feel free to express their personal vision and by acknowledging and respecting creative behavior. The art experience should stimulate their motivation to learn to make their own choices, to be flexible and to adapt. Through motivation, the child will discover. By encouragement, the child will express.

The philosophy of Art to Grow On is to inspire creative and mental growth through meaningful art experiences in a non-judgmental environment. Consider everything an experience. Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win or fail. There’s only make.

Through our art experiences, children learn. Art to Grow On is designed to promote individual expression by providing the opportunity, materials and process for the children to create their own solutions and conclusions. It is our belief that if we don’t continue to nurture the creative talent of our children, we won’t have our artists in the future.

Who we are

Art to Grow On is a non-profit, art enrichment organization that serves the creative development needs of school children in the greater Harbor area. Operated by parents and community volunteers, it was started in 1988 as a pilot program under Art at Your Fingertips, an art enrichment program in the Palos Verdes School District. Today, Art to Grow On’s staff of 130+ volunteer “docents” brings artistic experiences to more than 9000 school children, grades K-8, in 17 public and private schools in San Pedro, Harbor City, Lomita and Rancho Palos Verdes.

Art to Grow On’s school year program consists of five projects designed by professional artists chosen from the South Bay community. For each project, docents attend workshops where they receive instruction from the artist in how to present and teach the project to the children.

Motivation in Art

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." - Pablo Picasso

To motivate children in art is to assist them in the discovery of themselves; their ideas, feelings, wishies, fantasies, and dreams. The object is to encourage them to communicate their unner selves. The role of the motivator is crucial. If a non-threatening, non-judgemental environment is established, children are free to explore their deepest nature. In a constricting, coercive environment children are bound to comformity and imitation.

Through original expression in early life, the tools and self-confidence for original thought and expression are established. Uncharted territory, difficult problems, blank pages will pose not a threat but rather wonder and challenge!

Art should assist in developing the abilities of resourcefulness and creativity; to express one's feelings and ideas andin turn respect the feelings and ideas of others.

Moreover, if the art educator is sincerely interested in letting the chldren explore their creative powers, she must provide an environment free of judgement and criticism, combined ideally with the child's equally sincere attemtp to participate in the artistic process.

Our History

Art to Grow On is Celebrating 30 years of Creativity

Released: February 15, 2019 by the Art to Grow On general board

The Golden Fish project was based on the works of modern Italian artist Marco Mazzoni.

When you mention the name Art to Grow On an entire generation of people who grew up in the Harbor area may remember the fun artwork they created as children participating in the program. Many still have their old projects lying around – or even on display in their homes.

This year Art to Grow on is celebrating its 30-year anniversary, three decades of taking high quality art projects into our local area schools. Hundreds of volunteers in the program have helped students develop their creativity and artistic skills using real artist tools and supplies following lesson plans created by local artists.

Art to Grow On is a non-profit, art enrichment organization that serves to fill in the gap of disappearing art education in public schools. The program is currently operated by 120 parent “docents” and reaches more than 9,000 school age children, grades K-6, in 15 schools across San Pedro, Lomita, Wilmington, and Rancho Palos Verdes every year.

The program enjoys a rich and fulfilling history which originally started because of state policy changes ranging back five decades. In 1970, passage of the Ryan Act eliminated art and music credential requirements for teachers. Today, as a result, the vast majority of K-8 classroom teachers have had little or no professional training in the visual and performing arts.

Then in 1978 California voters passed Proposition 13 which cut property taxes that in large part had gone to fund local school programs. In addition to losing school librarians, after school programs, and supplemental education, the fallout from the legislation virtually eliminated all dedicated art and music specialists in elementary schools.

As an answer to that tragic loss, a group of Palos Verdes Peninsula parents launched a non-profit art enrichment program for elementary age students that over time grew beyond the most optimistic dreams of its founders. Sponsored by the Palos Verdes Art Center, the original program in the area, Art at Your Fingertips (Art to Grow On’s sister organization) was an instant success.

In 1988 four schools in San Pedro (Crestwood, St. Peter Episcopal, South Shores and White Point) were invited to participate in a spin-off program. The group was originally sponsored by the non-profit Angel's Gate Cultural Center and the name "Art to Grow On" was chosen. The first annual show of children's art for the program opened May 19th 1990 at the Angel's Gate art gallery. That year’s theme, "The World of Imagination", included Japanese ink painting, a sculpture project and Picasso masks drawn with crayons on paper.

Since that time Art to Grow volunteers have presented over 245 unique projects to tens of thousands of students at more than 17 area elementary and middle schools. An amazing accomplishment for a program run solely by volunteers and funded by school parent organization donations and fundraisers.

Aside from Art to Grow On (San Pedro, Harbor area) and Art at Your Fingertips (Palos Verdes) there are now six programs in the South Bay area with the addition of Gateway to Art (Westchester, Culver City), Young at Art (Manhattan Beach), Adventures in Art (Torrance), and South Bay Hands on Art (Redondo Beach, Hawthorn). These groups all share the common goal of keeping quality art education in our area schools.

Art to Grow On’s school year program consists of five projects designed by local professional artists. Each project is specifically chosen by a committee of school representatives and each must fill high level requirements to be selected. “That’s what I love so much about this program. These projects aren’t just a quick construction paper craft or crayon drawings, they are real art experiences based on the work of famous artists,” says Mindy Kirton the current Project Selection Chair for ATGO. “In addition to the art piece the student gets to take home, each lesson is required to teach about an artist or art movement, art vocabulary, and also to highlight specific design skills like color theory, layout, negative and positive space, perspective, and art aesthetic. These projects are developed specifically to expose students to many different kinds of art techniques and tools, art history, and in a roundabout way helps them understand how important art and creative thinking skills are in our society today.”

If students participate from kindergarten to fifth grade they receive roughly 25 high quality art classes with the program and learn about art styles and artists that they can then recognize and appreciate throughout their life. For some students these creative experiences will influence them as they develop their own professional future. That’s a simply amazing result from a homegrown non-profit group.

"Art teaches creative problem-solving and how to think outside the box. Many children say that they can't draw and aren't artists. Once they try, they are often surprised at just how talented they really are!... One thing about teaching art to kids that constantly amazes me is this: you can give the exact same instruction using the exact same materials and the results are like fingerprints in that no two are alike. A child's creativity and expression is that individual and unique." – Marcia Spaulding, ATGO Chair, 2005

For each chosen project, school docents attend workshops where they receive instruction from the invited professional artist in how to teach their project to the students. Docents then return to their schools and present the projects along with the history lesson and vocabulary. Over the years these projects have highlighted art from well-known artists like Picasso, Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keef, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, Modigliani, Grandma Moses and others as well as modern and more obscure artists like Hagop Najarian, Sandra Silberzweig, Damon Farmer, and Jim Dine. Students also learn about cultural art forms such as Japanese silk paintings, Peruvian weaving, ancient Egyptian art, or African tribal patterns. Art from all over the world and from every time period has been highlighted as part of the lessons over the years… and the program is still going strong.

“I just knew how important this program was when my husband and I finally took our son Ryan, to an art museum, he was around 8-years old, and he was running around saying "Look, Mom, Dad, Look. There's a Van Gogh. look, there's Degas." I don't know about you, but when I was 8 I don't think I knew any artists, much less their names. So, I magnify that by the hundreds of other kids from kindergarten through eighth grade who are participating in this program, and realize just how far this art work stretches out across a sea of students...” -- ATGO Chair, 2004

The biggest hurdle the organization faces today, like many other non-profits, is getting and keeping docents in the program. As times change along with the community, fewer people are available or willing to donate time to take these art lessons into student classrooms and turnover is high as their own children move on to middle and high school. There has been a steady decline in volunteers and funding over the past decade. Some schools in the organization have had to cut back the number of projects they are able to do with the students each year, “As school districts worry about liability, they are making it increasingly difficult for PTA's, and other parent organizations to raise funds for this amazing program.

Volunteering is also becoming more difficult for people, and the way that younger parents feel about volunteering is changing” says past ATGO Executive Chair Laura Helm. “Organizations like Art to Grow On are worth every effort to support their undertakings in blending the needs of students, their families and their schools in our wonderfully creative way.”

The Art to Grow On program has high hopes for the growth of art education in the schools they work with as they celebrate their 30thyear this May. They are focused on building greater community involvement and gathering a strong volunteer base to take their program into the next decade. As schools close their campuses and make parent involvement and fundraising more difficult, donating to or volunteering in this program is a great way to have some involvement in your child’s education, support the arts, and make a difference. The benefits of participating are extensive and wide reaching.

“What an amazing opportunity to be able to learn about different artists, work with a variety of art materials, and to teach art and inspire new artists in the classroom! We are so fortunate to have a program that celebrates art and allows for docents to give back in their community. Ask your local school how you can be a part of this program. Let’s continue to support Art to Grow on for another 30 years!” -- Stephanie Valencia, current ATGO President.

ATGO extends an open invitation for all local artists interested in the program to create and submit age appropriate projects for selection. In addition, community volunteers are desperately needed to keep the programs running behind the scenes on the general board as well as volunteers at the schools to teach or assist with supplies in the classroom. The work can be challenging at times but the rewards of watching the joy in a child’s face as they see the art they’ve just created and tell you with a beaming smile “Look what I just did!” is a feeling you will never forget.

Show your support for our up and coming generation of artists here in the Harbor area by encouraging their creativity and learning. Find ways to involve them in the rich art scene of our community and take time to get involved with the art programs available to them. For more information on the Art to Grow On program visit www.arttogrowon.com, or you can contact your local school PTA to learn more about volunteer opportunities with their ATGO group.

Can't get enough art? Here are some wonderful programs for families and kids. Many are free.

  • Kids under 18 get free memberships at LACMA, and there are free art classes for kids most Sundays during NextGEN Family Days.
  • Low cost, high values classes for kids and adults in art and more at our own art community at Angels Gate in San Pedro.
  • The Long Beach Museum of Art also hosts family art workshops and is a wonderful place to visit with it's view of the Pacific.

Of Special Interest

ATGO does good works - in schools and around the world. Our Amate Heritage project in 2009 not only helped our kids look into their past but it also helped a small village in Mexico where ATGO purchased the special bark paper for this project. The purchase was large enough to sustain the village for months. Here is a video of the paper making process.