ITAS Podcast Episode #4

Today, we are talking to Anna Laroque from a local non-profit organization ArtReach San Diego that is making sure that kids are not going to miss out on art programs at school. This is a small team of passionate creatives that is making a huge difference in our community.

Read and listen to the very end because there is an active call for artists for their 2021 guitar art project!

Meet Anna

Hi, I’m Anna Laroque, the community outreach coordinator for ArtReach San Diego.

I do a lot of our marketing and social media, but I also do our fundraising. I work with our development committee and with our board. But I also do all of our email and social media to kind of help get the word out there amongst some other crazy admin things.

How ArtReach came to be

We were founded back in 2008. And it was to help fill a need for where art funding was getting cut out in schools. So we initially started by just programs in schools and bringing art lessons to students. We have expanded since and we work with K-12. We focus on Title One schools to provide free art programs to their students, but we’ve also branched out into working with community centers.

Also, we have a mural program. Basically anywhere where there’s a need for art, we want to try to bring that art experience to young artists all over San Diego County. 

ArtReach was founded by two sisters, Sandi Cottrell and Judy Berman Silbert, they’re both artists and both are still on our board. And Sandi actually is a co-director of ArtWalk and that’s our connection with ArtWalk San Diego.

Sandi and Judy founded ArtReach and helped build it to where it is now, even just remaining on the board and being really vocal with the art community. 

Back in 2008, there were a lot of budget cuts to schools. And one of the biggest factors in that was art funding. This was happening nationwide, it’s not just San Diego and California. And we’ve kind of seen the same trend even in the last year because of COVID.

Arts is basically the first thing to go when they do budget cuts. And it’s sad because it’s such a huge thing in young people’s lives, even if they’re not growing up to be artists necessarily.

Art is a really great foundation for young people to help express themselves, get them interested in different things, and form this thing within them that helps them grow as a person.

People don’t always see that and that’s why art programs are the first thing to go. It’s true not only for the visual arts, which is what we focus on. It can also be music and dance and all these different areas of creative expression. And as long as funding for art keeps getting pushed aside, there’s a need for people like us. 

Art is part of my life

I don’t necessarily call myself an artist but I like to partake in creative things. I like to do artistic things but I never really saw that as a profession. I did a lot of art from a very young age and it kind of just always stuck with me. It really helps you grow and express yourself in different ways. Even if you’re not necessarily trying to be an artist it still gives you more of a well-rounded life.

I did a lot of metal smithing and jewelry in high school. I also was at one point going to try to go into graphic design. Right now, I do more crafts, mixed media collage, cross-stitch. Last year, I started doing stained glass artwork, but then COVID happened and I wasn’t going to go to the studio anymore. So I haven’t touched that in a year. 

It’s kind of all over the place but I like things that are very linear, and organized, and very straightforward.

A lot of the art I do is very meticulous and process oriented. And that’s kind of why I liked doing graphic design back in college and high school. And I still do, even for ArtReach I create a lot of visual things. I like the design aspect of my job, it’s pretty fun. 

The guitar project 2021

This is our second year with guitars. It’s actually only our third art auction. 

I was hired in 2019 as an intern. I left my full-time job to be an intern with ArtReach because I was trying to get into event planning.

I was hired to do the surfboard auction which was actually their first auction. I’m not entirely sure how the idea came up. But I know it was between ArtWalk and ArtReach trying to come up with a new fundraiser. They decided to use the Mission Fed ArtWalk to have this auction, bring in a bunch of artists, bring in a bunch of supporters of both organizations and really have this big thing. 

I came in when it was already happening. The artists were already chosen. I was just helping make the rest of it happen. And then I was hired on part-time and then eventually full-time. 

As for this idea with guitars, Sandi from ArtWalk had a connection with someone from Fender that ended up donating 31 guitars.

And it kind of just went from there. This year, we decided to ride on this wave and see if we can reach out to this donor again. They were so amazing, so friendly, and just have this passion for the arts and music and a passion for guitars. And so we were able to get approved by this donor for 30 more guitars! 

Because of the pandemic, the auction is being officially moved to October. So we have a little bit of time. We’re looking for artists now to participate. The application is open till March 1 and we’re hoping to make a decision by March 5. 

I don’t know what we’ll do in the future because we want to try to find different ways for people to make art out of things that may not necessarily be straightforward art pieces. This guitar auction was such a success, we wanted to see if we can do it again. If not, we’ll think of something else. But it just seemed like a fun idea to do again, it was so exciting. 

Leaving a job to become… an intern?

When I first moved here, I got a job pretty much immediately. As much as I did art, and design things in high school in college, I actually ended up being a mathematics major. And I got a job kind of in that sector where I did math and spreadsheets all day. I was there for six and a half years and I wasn’t very happy there. 

But I had this revelation of trying to find this new career path. And so I did event planning courses at San Diego State.It turned out that Sandi used to teach a festivals class there, which I didn’t even take, but it was one of the electives. 

After I did those courses I decided to leave my job. I gave five months notice and took that time to look for different opportunities

I started volunteering with American Lung Association here in San Diego. I took on a couple little events, I did a wedding for a friend of mine up in LA. I was trying to dip my toes into different areas of the event world because I didn’t really know where I wanted to land. I just knew I wanted to be open to events in general. 

The program I did at San Diego State frequently posts different event jobs. And because Sandi was involved with that course she had posted an internship with ArtWalk to help with event organization. By the time I sent them my resume, they’d already filled the position, but then they pointed at the opportunity with their partner ArtReach and said I’d be great for it. 

I went in, I met Sarah, our executive director, and felt like we clicked right away and I got hired on the spot. It was perfect because it pulled in all these loves that I had. My love for the arts and being creative, and I always liked being in the environment of working with kids. And I’m working with events. It turned into this whole new position that I never thought that I had wanted. I really love it. I’m glad I made that leap, it was kind of a crazy leap for me. I never do stuff like that.

Running programs during the pandemic

Right now we’re focusing on distance learning. We’ll do pre-recorded or live zoom sessions.

Right now we’re working on a rollout for our free programs. We have about, I think 2000+ artist kits going out to the Title 1 schools that we work with. As part of our free program, they’re going to get five pre-recorded lessons and art supplies kits for all students. 

During the lockdown, we had some quick little fundraising pushes and we got about 500 free kits out there for children. We worked with some of our community partners but then other people started signing up to deliver those kits. 

We had a lot of murals that were set up, starting in March last year. And we had one group of students that were supposed to start painting soon. First, the mural had been delayed because of rain and when we finally got the design on the wall, all of a sudden, schools were closed. And so we ended up doing our first distance mural with those kids because they actually reached out to their teacher and said that they still want to do it and even offered to fund it from their own piggy banks. 

So the mural artist that worked with us, Hannah Gundrum, ended up doing a sticker sale on Instagram. And we got this distance mural fully funded through Instagram! We got squares of plywood, paint, and other supplies for the students. They got their own easels, we had instructions on how to set up their little art space. And they created over zoom together, she led them through painting exercises, and they all painted their square. And then we got all the squares back and displayed them on the fence at their school and we had a mini mural unveiling with a few of the students properly distanced and masked-up.

We get students involved in the mural creation from the very beginning. They submit designs, they help create what the mural is going to look like, and they work with the mural artist from concept to completion. So these students got to knot only create the actual mural that we’ll be working on once we’re able to, but they got to also create this whole new idea and still be able to paint at home but together over zoom It was really incredible and inspiring. 

How big is ArtReach San Diego?

There are four of us who are full-time employees, the main team. And we have about four or five other teaching artists. We work with a few other people as partners, a couple of mural artists that are on the contract. We have 12 people on our board that we work with on different committees to help make other things happen. But yes, it’s a pretty small group of people right now.

I feel like we’re starting to have a need for growth. Our programs are expanding, especially with distance learning, we’re able to reach more kids. And then murals we’re trying to build upon and just make it bigger. There’s more demand for murals and we just need more people on our team to work with.

I can see us expanding over the next couple years to keep up with the demand. We’d love to do as much as we can with as many kids and as many schools and communities as possible. There’s definitely that need to grow as time goes on. I’m excited for our future. 

Call for artists and donors

Guitar project 2021.

We want to get as many artists as possible to get involved with our guitar auction. The application is open till March 1, and we’re going to try to choose the artists by March 5. We might extend it a little bit but it depends. It is open for all San Diego artists or anyone who can pick up and bring back the guitar to our San Diego office. 

Click here to submit your application or email me at if you have any questions about it. 

We’re looking for a wide variety of artists, and you get to design a guitar and we How cool is that? 

Art supplies donations.

A big thing for us right now is to provide brand-new high-quality art supplies to kids. So if you’re interested in donating art supplies or if you’re not sure what we’re accepting, definitely reach out and ask

We can provide a wish list and other details. We’re trying to get as much art out there to kids as possible and give them the ability to create at home which is really important right now.

Where to find ArtReach San Diego online

Official website:

linkedIn: ArtReach SD

Instagram: @artreachsd

Facebook: @ArtReachSD

Twitter: @ArtReachSD

Guitar art auction application form


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