Mister Artsee Truck Delivers Supplies to Art-Starved Kids

Mobile art lab fueled by backers including Agnes Gund and Justine Wheeler-Koons.

This fall, the vintage ice cream truck-turned mobile arts platform known as Mister Artsee will begin making the rounds to New York City classrooms. In collaboration with the organization ARTeRY Kids NYC, the vehicle will be delivering free Choice Time Art Boxes, or art supply kits of scissors, paper, glue, a flash-drive, and more, to pre-kindergarten children in New York City.

Begun by sculptor and former Jeff Koons studio manager Vanessa Solomon, ARTeRY Kids NYC aims to provide kids and teachers in the public school system with the tools they need to support the development of visual art skills and to encourage arts programming that is part of the school curriculum. Solomon’s initiative has its roots in a similar program she launched last year at P.S. 130 in Brooklyn, where instructors reported the art supplies tucked away in each Choice Time Art Box were “well used.” Since then, Solomon and Mister Artsee founder Elliott Arkin have rallied the support of Koons’s wife, artist Justine Wheeler-Koons (whose painting you can see in the informational video on the site), Tom Otterness, and collector and MoMA trustee Lawrence Benenson. (Donations to the effort can be made on their websites).

The program’s timing couldn’t be better. This month, Mayor Bill de Blasio rolls out his plan for universal pre-K to children across New York City. Mister Artsee has been approved by the Department of Education to kick off the deliveries of art supply kits to 3,600 classrooms. As per Arkin, the vehicles will begin with the 90 neediest schools identified by the DOE and take it from there. If all goes well, Arkin and Solomon hope to expand the program to students in kindergarten and first grade.

Arkin says he’s known Solomon for years and over a conversation about what they had each been up to, the two realized that their projects would work well hand-in-hand. Funding for the art kits and building the truck (which, according to the Art Newspaper, cost $250,000), which is still underway, came in the form of donations from Benenson, collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund, and companies including Artsy, and a grant of $50,000 from the Annenberg Foundation.


The Mister Artsee truck.
Photo: Courtesy Elliott Arkin.

The vehicle, a 1960s Mister Softee ice cream truck (where the art organization takes its name) that was given a redesign by architect Dario Nunez-Ameni and has been in the works for years (plans for the vehicle were first unveiled at Half Gallery in 2009, and Amanda Palmer has since given a concert on a prototype of the vehicle), was conceived to be a mobile art space that was unlike a gallery, and more of “a moving symbolic space,” Arkin said. “It’s a functioning Smokey the Bear in art education. That’s really from a conceptual standpoint what it sets out to do.” But rather than educate the public on the dangers of forest fires, the Mister Artsee-mobile will eventually bring an accessible art platform—equipped with a stage, video projectors, and a podium—to the people, complete with collaborations with Jeff Koons, Dustin Yellin, Otterness, and others. But for now, it’ll be making the rounds for the kids.

“If you could do that you could create something that has value,” Arkin said. “And if you can create something that has value, then you could generate support for art and art education. I think the art world could have a Smokey the Bear.”

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