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Rust Belt Rembrandt


Mary Lou Kownacki, a Benedictine sister who is director of Benetvision Publishing and author of Between Two Souls: Conversations with Ryokan, is the founder of Inner-City Neighborhood Art House in Erie, Pennsylvania, which offers free, after-school programs in the creative and performing arts. She and her staff of 32 and 2,000 volunteers a year have just been awarded the Manhattan Institute's Social Entrepreneurship Award given annually to "non-profit leaders who have found innovative private solutions for America's most pressing social problems." Since 1994, more than 3,0000 children have tapped into their creative gifts by painting, writing poems, learning to play an instrument, acting in plays, or exploring the works of past masters.

In a time when art instruction has been cut out of so many school programs, it is a miracle to see it thrive in a rust-belt town where poor children have little to do with their free time. The 30 activities and classes available every afternoon range from the readings of Hooked on Books to museum trips to creative writing exercises supervised by Sister Mary Lou, a former elementary-school teacher and a published poet. Hats off to her spiritual mission of exposing children to the arts, nourishing their souls, and giving them a sense of beauty and meaning in life!

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