Making Art ‘Just Happen’


Name: Molly Lieberman ’06
Home: Savannah, Georgia
Work: Founder and director of Loop It Up Savannah, a community arts nonprofit

Not long after Molly Lieberman launched her innovative community arts program, Loop It Up Savannah, she had a conversation that helped her see her work as being about far more than just crafts.

“I was outside with some kids and we witnessed a shooting,” she explains. “And as we were walking back inside, one of the little boys said to me, ‘Well, that’s what happens. Sometimes you get shot.’ And I was so shocked because, in my world, that is not just what happens.” The boy’s comment stuck with Molly, and she began thinking about how best to respond. She realized that tragic things do happen in our communities, and around the world, and that she can’t prevent them. “But what I can do is make sure there are other things that ‘just happen’ that are going to be good. And they are going to happen every single day, with as much consistency, and it’s going to be as believable and real as the really scary things that exist in the world.”

And so, with ingenuity and determination, she has set about making that vision a reality. From the program’s modest beginnings in 2008, when she was asked to teach a small knitting class in a local YMCA, she has built Loop it Up Savannah into a citywide institution that now provides arts and crafts instruction to some 5,000 kids at dozens of schools, community centers, and local events. Under her leadership, the group became an independent nonprofit in 2015, focusing much of its efforts on after-school programs and in-school residency programs. “We have some real challenges in our school district,” Molly explains. “A lot of kids are not reading at grade level, so it’s important for nonprofits to support schools and teachers to make sure kids are entering the world with a full toolbox. Art is a great way to do that. In the kid’s mind, they are just doing art projects and having fun, but they are having to apply their math skills, their reading skills, and their comprehension skills.”
A favorite Loop It Up classroom project, the Book Box Library, offers an example. The group provides each student with a crate, which the students then decorate with images of their favorite characters from books. “Then we fill up the crate with books and they get to take it home as their own personal library,” says Molly. The benefits are twofold, she notes. “We are sending books to homes where there may not be many,” she says, “but the project also pushes the student’s comprehension, because when they are decorating, they are reading descriptive passages from books that inform how they paint that character. So it’s a real creative way to extend some of the enthusiasm about art to reading.”

Not surprisingly, Savannah has taken on Loop It Up as “one of its beloved organizations,” says Molly. The group receives funding from private donors and grants, and has contracts with the city to do arts programming at community centers. The group also holds an annual fundraising campaign that culminates in Soup it Up for Loop It Up, a cooking event featuring local chefs. Along with the support, no small amount of love flows Molly’s way. “This city won the lottery when she moved here,” noted one Facebook fan. “She is authentic, inspiring, and energizing. Thank God for Loop It Up Savannah!”

For her part, Molly says she felt the appeal of Savannah from her first visit, when she arrived for classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She had grown up in Northampton, attending Williston as a day student, and traces her interest in art back to her elementary school days at the Smith College Campus School. “That really had a humongous impact on me, and the way that I view art as part of the rest of life,” she says.

At Williston, she continued to immerse herself in art, but also discovered the joys of the theater, the technical side in particular. “I actually think that stage managing is what gave me the best skills for what I’m doing now,” she says with a laugh. “I sort of feel like I’m continuously stage managing!” In addition to the management skills, she found that theater introduced her to the satisfaction of achieving an ambitious goal with others. “That rush of pulling off something colossal, that’s something you get hooked on. And while it’s a very different medium that I’m working in now, it’s that same feeling: We’re all going to work hard to achieve these big things, because we want that feeling.”

Call it the feeling of making goodness just happen.