It was nearly a decade ago when Frankie first became a student with Snow City Arts. Since then, he’s worked with our teaching artists to write poems, make films, paint paintings, perform music, take photos and more. Much more. All told, Frankie has created more than 40 different works of art with SCA while attending more than 250 workshops while in the hospital.
Today, Frankie is 21 years old and still working with Snow City Arts as a recipient of the Paul Sznewajs Scholarship, named for SCA’s founder and established for students who are no longer in pediatric hospitals. Working with teaching artists Jon Stein and Julia deBettencourt, he continues to pursue his interest in writing in an independent study setting.
“The Paul Sznewajs Scholarship allows us to continue to mentor our long-term students outside of the hospital with whom we’ve built deep relationships,” said deBettencourt, who also serves as SCA’s program director. “We’re always looking for opportunities that allow our students to achieve their artistic goals and for Frankie, we feel this opportunity is a great fit.”
Ask deBettencourt, Stein or any of the dozen other SCA teaching artists who’ve worked with Frankie and they’ll tell you that he’s not just a polymath and not just prolific—although he is undoubtedly both of those things. Frankie is an artist, in the truest sense of the word, someone whose mind is bubbling with ideas and images and thoughts he wants to express.
On the walls at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in September, guests at A Balloon on the Moon, SCA’s 2017 Gallery Night exhibition, saw art from Frankie that gave a glimpse of the breadth and depth of his work, from a watercolor of flowers to a surrealist “exquisite corpse” drawing to poetry and prose. After he was honored as a featured artist that night, he even sat down at the piano to play a piece of music he wrote.
Before Frankie’s speech, SCA theatre teaching artist Dan Kerr-Hobert talked about his first meeting with Frankie, when he and Stein introduced themselves and talked up their workshops. Frankie said he’d be happy to work with them, but would they be willing to find him a few items? He needed six coffee stirrers, two rubber bands, two paper clips and a ballpoint pen with a spring. If the blueprints he’d been sketching in his notebook worked right, that would allow them to build a crossbow.
“Frankie always has a project in progress,” Kerr-Hobert said. “He wants you to read what he’s writing. To hear the music he’s been working on. He’s a self-taught musician. He loves to read. He wants to talk to you about philosophy.”
Never at a loss for inspiration, Frankie said that Snow City Arts has helped him channel his ideas with knowledge and resources. “I’ll summarize what Snow City Arts was, for myself,” he said at Gallery Night. “A versatile, and artistically diverse conglomerate with whom every idea was met with an apt and enriching discussion, where ideas were encouraged and supported.”
Having flexibility is critical for working in a hospital, where kids are admitted for a wide variety of reasons. Some students are on hand for a few days and others are in and out of the hospital for years. In the case of a student like Frankie, Snow City Arts has the capacity to offer a wide mix of media to keep him engaged and interested, over time and as both a 12-year-old and into his 20s.
Kerr-Hobert talked about how Frankie looks for genuine feedback to make the work better. He also noted, though, that Frankie will always interpret an assignment to make it his own. “One time we asked him to work on a shadow puppet film, and he ended up making us a hand-drawn cell animation of a magician appearing in a cloud of curling smoke. Another time we gave him a writing prompt and he started working on a novel,” he said.
Not every student who works with Snow City Arts has Frankie’s talent or interest in exploring so many different ways to create art, but he said that anyone can benefit from a chance to make art in “what many of us may consider a stressful environment.” He pointed out that when working with SCA, the students don’t have to adhere to a strict curriculum or maintain a grade. They get to work with artists on their own ideas and at their own pace.
“In a time when the arts receive increasingly less support, it’s the work of organizations like Snow City Arts that supplement art where it’s needed and how it’s needed: intimately,” Frankie said. “The single most significant thing Snow City Arts has done for me was exist in the right place at the right time some ten years ago—and ever since.”