UPDATED 12:45 a.m.: NORWALK, Conn. – Matthew Badger went to Norwalk on Tuesday night to share a message with leaders of the city's beleaguered school system: There is money available to help children who look at life the way his late daughters did.
"It's my belief that in elementary school you decide if you like school or if you don't like school," said Badger, father of three girls who died in a Christmas Day fire in Stamford. "If you don't have the language of art inclusive in each classroom, I think you're going to lose children."
Badger, a New York resident, created the LilySarahGraceFund to "challenge the idea that art is nonessential" in elementary school classrooms and provide supplies for teachers who propose creative projects for their students. "I think our program empowers teachers," he said. "I think it validates teachers."
Artists and a floral designer from Norwalk are collaborating with Badger and others to hold a fundraiser, ART N'BLOOM, next week in the city. That prompted Badger to make his first ever speech to a Board of Education.
"I think there's a percentage in every classroom where the kids are visual learners," he said. "It's a travesty that we do not have any arts funding for these children. Many kids are getting lost."
Badger said Lily, his oldest, had dyslexia, leading her to have anxiety attacks after beginning kindergarten. Grace, one of the twins, had a totally different experience because her teacher used arts and creativity as her language to teach. "Gracie loved her teacher, went to school every day, skipped to school and cried at the end of the year when school was over," Badger said.
ART N'BLOOM will be put on by the St. Philip Artists Guild and The Silk Touch, in sponsorship with the Norwalk Arts Commission. The evening of professional art, entertainment and music will showcase the work of 13 guild members in a gallery setting augmented by floral arrangements by Danna DiElsi. It will be held Sept. 13 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Manice Lockwood Mansion at 25 France St., Norwalk.
Badger hopes Norwalk teachers will apply for grants. "The state of Connecticut is where my children died, and I think it would be great if the state of Connecticut took advantage of my fund that I have created," he said.
Creative projects don't have to include art, he said – growing tomatoes is an act of creativity. His foundation will buy supplies and deliver them to the teachers who are awarded grants.
School board Chairman Jack Chiaramonte thanked Badger. "After enduring such a personal tragedy to be giving of yourself, keeping our children in your thoughts, is truly heart touching."