TODAY   |  May 17, 2013

Mom starts nonprofit to bring art education to kids

Barbara Allen had worked in some of the finest museums, but was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. Then she and her son Roger were inspired by dwindling art programs in Philadelphia to start a nonprofit, Fresh Artists, to get kids making masterpieces. NBC’s Jane Pauley reports.

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>>> back with our series "life reimagined today."

>> jane paulie has been working on a new series. good to see you.

>> good to see you guys, good morning. everyone sees something different from a work of art. philadelphia mom saw a solution to a problem. here's barbara chandler allen and her life reimagined.

>> this could be a museum of modern art . how many times in your life have you said what if? you know?

>> reporter: in philadelphia as everywhere, school budgets are being slashed and what goes first but the budget for?

>> art.

>> reporter: but barbara allen and her son rodge her a big idea . back when she was a volunteer mom at roger's school barbara heard a radio interview with the new school superintendent.

>> i was very moved by what he said so i pulled off the road and i called in.

>> are you still there, barbara ?

>> yes, i am good morning. welcome to our city and i invite to you come and visit us.

>> reporter: he returned the invitation, he had a job in mind at school headquarters. barbara happened to be at a crossroads in her own life.

>> i was getting a divorce and i realized that i needed a job.

>> reporter: she had worked in some of the finest museums, but for 20 years was a state-at-home mom. you had a fabulous resume. it was just way out of date. the superintendent's job offer was a big one, fill an 850,000 square foot space with children's art.

>> so i was ready to frame children's art and put it everywhere throughout the building and it would have looked like sort of fly specks on the wall.

>> roger saw the solution.

>> the only way to blow it up as large as we can and use large format digital imprinting.

>> reporter: the impact was wow.

>> every single time we put pieces on the wall someone would come in and say i want to buy one of those.

>> reporter: so she and roger started a non-profit, fresh artists.

>> there you go, yeah.

>> reporter: the idea, a kid makes a masterpiece, it's enlarged, a company gets the art as a thank you for a donation.

>> this is one of our favorites.

>> reporter: and fresh artists buys art supplies and teacher training for philadelphia classrooms.

>> the students will be just thrilled to have this.

>> reporter: the beautiful scissors, maybe it's a paper cutter , we will buy bhawhatever that teacher in need needs.

>> reporter: the kid artists get something big out of it, too.

>> every time i do an art piece i feel a lot of people are being helped.

>> if poor schools can have money and art supplies and help other people.

>> we discovered the art of a young boy made in sixth grade and it was brilliant, strong, powerful, bold piece, it was blown up very large and he stood in front of it and then he turned to me and he said, "i guess i really am somebody." i saw a problem and we had the toolkit to fix it.

>> reporter: the confidence with which you speak about this comes in part from age.

>> nothing ventured nothing gained will probably be on my tombstone. i've always been pretty bold and pretty fearless, but i think that it's reached almost sort of terrifying proportions at 65. everybody tries to figure out how can you possibly get the power of the private sector to bear on the enormity of the problem in public education .

>> reporter: barbara allen is making children part of the solution.

>> thanks for being such a talented and generous young woman . i look at where i am now in life as we all have threads of things that we've done. i've taken those threads and i've woven them into a new tapestry.

>> reality check, barbara is not on salary, but for someone looking to get a foot in the door , she has some advice. in her words, give it away for free. be a volunteer, and make yourself indispensable. personal observation, a large proportion of the profiles that we've done were with people who had a history of volunteering, people who volunteer seem to have more options and the confidence to learn new things. i hope you'll join me later at noon eastern for my live webcast at

>> an amazing beauty, the power of art.

>> thank you.

>> thank you so much.