Some of the oldest ATD Fourth World programs involve creativity. One of the very first projects we initiated was a community center that served as a place for people to come together in beautiful surroundings. Reproductions of master paintings hung on the walls, there was a carpeted book library, a room for activities with the children, a laundry room, a special room for women where a beautician came to do their hair and nails. It was a place where people could find beauty in the furnishings and in turn, especially for the children, find creative programs to express the beauty within themselves.
Here in the US, this tradition continues with the Learning Co-op, located in the coalfields of southwest Virginia, with art activities being run with students and prisoners in New Mexico, and with a knitting circle running in a homeless shelter in New York.
The largest and the oldest of these activities is the Learning Co-op. The Co-op came about with the discovery by ATD Fourth World volunteers of the amazing creativity of the families and individuals they came to know in Appalachia. This inventiveness came out of a culture of making do with few resources and the fact that the region, because of its isolation, lacked access to ready-made articles. People were quilting, weaving, woodworking, and playing music, in isolated hollows and mountain ridges.
The Learning Co-op is a place where their skills are recognized and passed on to others. Modern technology also has its place, the computer being an important tool for creating and gathering information.
On a given day, in the workshop area some people will be quilting, some discussing local issues, others researching on the Internet for their projects. Anyone who has something to show others is encouraged to come to the Learning Co-op to give a workshop. There have been many workshops, among them blue-grass music, jewelry making, rock painting, basket weaving, origami, candy making, even making a Wizard of Oz tin man out of empty tin cans.
In 2009, the Learning Co-op invited ATD Fourth World members in other parts of the U.S. and Europe who were involved in artistic and craft projects to join local people in an exchange of ideas and workshops lasting a week. The public were invited to the first day to meet the participants and display their own work, and to the last day to see and hear about the accomplishments of the workshops.
The Learning Co-op continues to help individuals and families develop their creativity in both traditional skills and modern technology, skills that can be respected and appreciated.