Written by Stacie Sanders Evans,
President and CEO of Young Audiences/Arts for Learning
Belonging. That’s the word that has been on my mind. Our founder, Nina Collier, understood belonging. She felt music belonged in schools, that artists belonged in a child’s education. In 1950 she inspired a movement of artists-in-schools. What started in Baltimore has now grown to 30 Young Audiences–the largest arts-in-education network in the US.
Today, Young Audiences artists like Femi the DriFish and Valerie Branch ignite a child’s desire to learn. Whatever our partner artists’ art form is–hip hop dance or improvisational theatre–they use it to draw kids into learning. We train our artists to integrate their art form with whatever is being taught in students’ literacy, math, social studies, and science classes.
We do that because when kids create something they get to make choices. They make meaningful connections. They express themselves. Choice and voice–that makes the learning matter.
When we, as a community, provide children with these kinds of opportunities, we are telling them, “You matter!” All of this, what we do, it nurtures the sense of belonging in our kids, artists, parents, and teachers. And it is belonging that I feel when I walk into one of our classrooms. Listen to how Tiffani, Dawn, and Valerie talk about our community in Together–we are their people–and we all belong.
Think back to when you were growing up. Who were YOUR people? What teacher or coach left their imprint. Who helped you become the person that you are today? I bet that person made you feel visible. Known. That you belonged.
My moment was in ninth grade. I was struggling in many different ways and my drama teacher, Mrs. Howard, saw something in me. She knew how to draw that “something” out–just like the 200 artists (both YA roster artists and independent artists) we work with. In her class, I belonged. She cast me as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. And that moment was like rocket fuel for me.
Belonging is a strong human need, particularly in our children. I see belonging as the net below the trapeze. When kids have that net of belonging, they are more likely to lean into learning–kids like Josh Ajala, who in Together, spoke about moving from the back of the class to the front–and his sister Tiffani Ajala–who was brave enough to apply for Baltimore Design School (and got the highest possible score on her fashion portfolio!) These are the courageous risks we want our kids to take so that they can grow.
But public education for the last 17 years, after the birth of No Child Left Behind, hasn’t been focused on this. It has been about raising standards and increasing school accountability–measured through standardized testing. What do kids who are part of this system think about this? In Brenna’s poem, she says students feel like they are just inputs and outputs in one simple equation.
The outcomes we are seeing are heartbreaking and not sustainable as a society. Eight out of ten Baltimore City Schools students do not meet “proficiency” in math or reading. Nearly half of our children across the state entering Kindergarten are already behind. Four out of ten Maryland teachers leave teaching within five years because this isn’t the equation they want to be a part of.
A different way is needed. Young Audiences is a different way. Our movement is to make sure all kids–and the people who teach them–are not treated like inputs and outputs but as the whole beautiful human beings that they are.
Today, thanks to our 450 school partners, our Sunburst Society members, and our game-changing evidence, our movement is growing. Outreach has doubled in the last five years. We impact the education of 191,000 children EVERY year–children in EVERY Maryland county.
We are on a mission to close the opportunity gaps in this educational system. We have four strategies:
- Preventing summer learning loss by operating 20 summer programs across our city
- Increasing school readiness through early childhood programs in four counties
- Improving student engagement in learning by providing professional development to 500 teachers every year
- Increasing equity in access to opportunity–more than 30,000 of our children are in under-resourced communities, so we provide more to them
We have made tremendous progress over the last five years but we can take this to a new level. Five years from today, I think we can change the educational trajectory of 50,000 more kids. Here is how we can get there:
- Expand our evidence-based Summer Arts & Learning Academy in and beyond Baltimore City. This is the program that Tiffani, Alice, and Josh participated in that continues to have a ripple effect in their life. To expand to just one more school district, we have to find and train 20 more artists.
- This Academy is only 25 days of a kid’s life–and in that short time, we see lots of benefits. Imagine if kids had that kind of arts-integrated learning during the school year and school day? We want to launch year-round professional development and support for teachers and principals to make that happen. If we were able to add just one more person to our staff that focused on professional development, we could support 100 more teachers and principals every year.
- To have the greatest impact on a child’s potential, we need to invest early. (Did you know that 80% of the brain’s synaptic connections are made by age 3?) In 2024, we want to bring our Baby Artsplay program to 5,000 infants and toddlers across Maryland and–to their very first teacher–their parents. This will require our artists to be trained in early childhood development.
Think back to your person–your Mrs. Howard. Think back to that feeling of belonging. Imagine if you could create that opportunity for someone else. For another Josh. Another Brenna. Take that opportunity and multiply it by 50,000. Fifty thousand children sitting in the front of the class, trying out for Baltimore Design School, reaching for that trapeze handle.
That is the opportunity in front of us. For Brenna, that is the equation she wants us to come together and solve.
An inaugural Arts Integration Conference held at the Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC) showcased the strength and excellence of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI)‘s collective knowledge and resources. Over the course of the day, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) educators and CAC artists participated together in classes, learning to integrate three different art forms into other academic areas.
“This was actually the first time we brought these two groups together and—WOW—what amazing things happened!”
“CAC is a fantastic arts hub next door to all 12 AEMI schools, but there isn’t always time for teachers to experience all it has to offer,” said Hana Morford, YA Education Director, Statewide Initiatives. “Our goal for the day was to create synergy between the amazing CAC artists and AACPS teachers—giving them space to work together and learn from one another through the arts. This was actually the first time we brought these two groups together and—WOW—what amazing things happened!”
The teachers and artists rotated in groups throughout the workshops, spending equal time weaving and stitching with Katherine Dilworth, a Young Audiences fiber artist; learning the elements of dance with Lacey Sheppard, Arts Integration Teacher Specialist; and forming clay vessels with CAC artist Cami Ascher. Then, in the afternoon, the teachers worked in their school teams to write an arts-integrated lesson plan that connected to one of the three art forms. During this time, CAC artists were able to get a taste of arts integration and develop ideas on how they might integrate their art form with some of the teachers’ content areas.
As they engaged in the various art forms, ah-has and ideas filled the classrooms. Katherine Dilworth guided participants first in a weaving project using sturdy paper plates and colorful yarn, and later, in stitching. She shared finished samples with the teachers that focused on math and on literacy—incorporating felt and even beads into the designs. Her excitement was contagious. Working with burlap, needle, and thread, one history teacher imagined the possibility of students stitching constitutional amendments.
Teachers got their hands messy learning clay building techniques with Cami Ascher in the CAC’s ceramics studio. They rolled long snakes and coiled them into different shapes. They transformed balls of clay into pots and funny characters with big eyeballs. And they learned how to “scratch and attach” to create a strong bond between formed pieces of the material. Cami had lots of advice for the group: which clays to use if they have/don’t have access to a kiln, how to minimize mess, and how to preserve a project if more than a class period is needed to complete it.
Lacey Sheppard divided participants into two groups for her workshop, each choreographing and performing an original dance for the other. They thought carefully about BEST: Body, Energy, Space, and Time—the elements of dance. Some stepped out of their comfort zones while others felt right at home in the limelight, but they all enjoyed the exercise in movement and the connections they could make through the art form to other classroom lessons.
One participant gained so much from the professional development workshops, she sent a note of appreciation the next day. “I just wanted to share that yesterday’s PD was by far the best PD I have ever been to,” she said. “I loved how you had us in groups that stayed together through the day. I am so excited to bring back new ideas to my school. Thank you so so much!”
Hana added, “It was so beautiful to see the AEMI community begin to take shape between teachers and artists!” And it is a community, we know, that will create so many opportunities in Northern Anne Arundel County. That is the power of the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative.
Learn more about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative, its collective impact partners and the community it serves by visiting artsempoweredminds.org.
In January, the sun disappears so quickly—its absence makes the air that much colder. It feels funny to reflect on my youngest daughter’s first experience at Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) when, outside, it feels like it just might snow.
Kiyah and I, both of us parents of children who attended SALA 2018, were asked to meet at Young Audiences a couple of weeks ago. A teacher, Jesika Paige, was here, too. She wasn’t at my child’s SALA site last year, but I remember meeting her once. And I recognize her from our How We Do Summer video. Her smile is warm and her energy is radiant and it was so nice to be sitting at the table with her. Joining us were five teaching artists: Katherine Dilworth, Jamaal “Mr. Root” Collier, Vonnya Pettigrew, and Mama Kay and Mama Rashida of WombWork Productions, along with staff members Michael Brush, Monique Cox, Kurtis Donnelly, and Kristina Berdan.
Parents love SALA for a multitude of reasons. For one, Baltimore City Public Schools students participating in SALA have not only avoided summer learning loss but, in many cases, gained ground on their national peers in standardized testing. Between this and the fact that kids in SALA are immersed in meaningful art projects every single day, enrolling my 6-year-old was an easy decision. And as Ms. Paige noted in How We Do Summer, “for children who suppress their art during the school year, this was a time for them to actually show up and show out and show their artistic ability.” So, how can we take this amazing and enriching educational experience and make it even better? This is what we are here to find out.
Something that Young Audiences always makes sure to do is collect and evaluate feedback from all of a program’s stakeholders. If you are ever asked to fill out a survey regarding one of YA’s programs, know that your comments are read, your answers to questions are carefully considered, and your voice matters. The idea to form a community advisory for SALA was brought about in the feedback we collected from parents, and from students, teachers, and artists. Our mission is to ensure that SALA (an incredible, free, arts-filled, and academically excellent program) is student-centered and to identify program changes and improvements to implement during SALA 2019.
Coming together with other stakeholders for the SALA Community Advisory’s inaugural meeting reiterated to me the desire of everyone involved to improve, and to be wise, and strong. The group committed to making sure all families are involved all along the way and that all ideas are welcome. We look forward to sharing and listening with open hearts and open minds, reflecting on what we did well in 2018, what we can do better, on ideas for the future, and welcoming the unexpected. We cannot wait for another summer of SALA, each one better than the last—in the meantime, let it snow. Written by Shannon Kline, parent and Young Audiences Communications Associate.
If you would like to be a part of the Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) Community Advisory, we invite you to contact Kurtis Donnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your thoughtful input helps to make our programs the very best for students and we appreciate your time and dedication.
Thanks to our smARTbeats partners, WTMD, we have five Family Four-Packs for the Saturday Morning Tunes Grateful Dead tribute show with Ed Hough’s Dead Collective to give away! That means five of our lucky Facebook followers will receive four tickets each to the SOLD-OUT 9:30 a.m. show at the American Visionary Art Museum on Saturday, February 2, 2019!
Grateful Dead fans with young kids won’t want to miss out on the chance to attend this sold-out event! Ed Hough’s Dead Collective, who are some of Baltimore’s best roots and Americana musicians, will be channelling the music of the Grateful Dead in AVAM’s banquet hall among the museum’s renowned colorful and engaging artwork. Tickets also include organic snacks and juice for kids and coffee for adults. Doors open at 9 a.m., and the show runs 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Many thanks to WTMD for sharing this amazing opportunity! This contest is now closed.
Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
It’s all about priorities. There are only 24 hours in a day, and as a busy person, you have to prioritize the most important things. I could tell that this principal really wanted to talk about the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI), Young Audiences, and how arts-based learning was impacting his school. That’s because, despite the week-long game of telephone and email tag we played just before the start of the new school year, he kept contacting me to set up the next potential interview time. Happily, I finally connected with Rodney Walker, principal of Brooklyn Park Elementary School in Northern Anne Arundel County.
But first–what is AEMI? According to its website, it is “a collective impact initiative that utilizes the arts to improve school achievement, parent involvement, and student engagement and empathy in Northern Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS).” That collective involves more than a half dozen organizations selected for, among other things, their “expertise in the arts, education, or both.”
So when I spoke to Principal Walker, I was curious as to how his school had become involved, how the partnership worked in his school, and what his observations of its impact were. Brooklyn Park Elementary had become an AEMI school about three years ago when he received info about the group from AACPS’ Central Office. When he met with AEMI staff and learned of their mission and partnerships, he knew that it would be a “natural fit” for his school. He liked the idea that it “gives kids different opportunities to expand their learning. It exposes them to different art genres and focuses on creative ways to teach core subjects.”
Over the summer, Principal Walker attended one of Young Audiences’ tours of Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA), which was specifically geared towards introducing principals to the program. Having toured SALA earlier in the summer myself, I wondered how his experience as an educator differed from mine.
Like me, he was impressed with the fourth-grade classroom he observed using a rap song to learn math concepts. We both noticed how much fun the kids were having while they were learning, a crucial element in creating positive learning experiences.
But as a long-term educator, he noticed something that I had missed. “Sometimes our kids have difficulty in learning the math vocabulary. Here, they’re connecting because they’re having fun. But in the process, the kids are becoming leaders. They’re holding themselves accountable.” In other words, it was the children who were helping to create a positive classroom culture. Of course, the teachers were guiding it, but by empowering their students, the kids took ownership and were self-motivated.
Principal Walker’s assessment of the learning techniques he witnessed was “phenomenal,” but how will this translate back on the ground at Brooklyn Park Elementary? With AEMI’s focus on arts-based learning and its links to other arts/education groups, Principal Walker sees a continued focus on “creating a safe space for learning and exploration.”
“We will continue to work with AEMI, Young Audiences, and its partners to add professional development for our teachers, and incorporate new and creative ways to add arts-based learning into our writing and math classes.”
AEMI’s priority is to “increase access to high-quality, arts-integrated learning opportunities…” Though it’s not always easy to quantify any particular program’s impact, there is one thing that Principal Walker is absolutely certain of. That’s the “happy faces” he sees during assemblies with an arts orientation.
As Principal Walker’s enthusiasm for AEMI and its partners show, I suspect that arts-focused education will continue to be a priority at Brooklyn Park Elementary School.
The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative is the combined effort of many groups and individuals seeking to build a movement for increased equity through the arts in their community. With funding from the NEA in 2016, we built partnerships with Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC).
Written by Barbara Krebs,
Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
Spark. Ahh, now that’s a great word. Quick, simple, to the point. And it’s versatile – noun or verb – it’s all good. And if you’re a fan of onomatopoeia (and who isn’t?), well, I think spark works well there, too.
If you attended the 11th annual Young Audiences Impact Breakfast, you heard that word a lot. First, from Stacie Sanders Evans, President and CEO of Young Audiences, whose drama teacher sparked a passion that would put her on the path to her leadership of YA. You heard it from Jaime Clough, a second-grade Baltimore City Public School teacher who taught in YA’s Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA) and who has used the tools and strategies learned at SALA to transform her classroom during the school year. You even heard it from a student. High school senior Jahsol Drummond spoke about his experience developing his video and editing skills at the Center for Innovative Research in the Creative Arts (CIRCA) at UMBC in last summer’s Bloomberg Arts Internship. He shared his plans for the future as a college student (he was awarded a full scholarship to Bard College) and as a filmmaker. “My career has only just begun, and it’s already so exciting,” Jahsol beamed.
It is amazing where a spark will take you if you have the passion and determination to stoke the fire.
But, of course, the thing about the Impact Breakfast is not just the inspirational stories we hear from the presenters, nor is it solely about acknowledging the remarkable strides Young Audiences has made over the past few years in overcoming summer learning loss. These are important and wonderful things to witness, no doubt. But what truly struck me this time around was the synergy of people attending this event united by the desire to improve educational opportunities for the children in our communities.
Seated to my right was Kariz Marcel, a DJ, music producer, teaching artist, and founder of the nonprofit Innovation Echo Alliance who is seeking ways to partner with Young Audiences and other educational organizations through his music industry connections. As he explained it to me, he was hoping to establish a roster of professional recording artists who would be willing to donate a small portion of their music royalties to these organizations as an ongoing and sustainable way to raise funds for education in our local schools.
Another gentleman at our table was Lieutenant Steven Thomas, a member of the Anne Arundel County Police Crisis Intervention Team. He and his team identify youth who can be helped by, for instance, after-school programs, like the Police, Artist, and Community Engagement program (PACE), and then find ways to make these things happen. For example, when it was discovered that transportation was an issue, they partnered with the school system to provide it. That meant getting the school-approved CDL bus license so they could drive students on the county’s buses. A little spark of creativity to problem solve what might otherwise have been a deal killer. Instead, police officers are keeping local youth involved in enrichment programs.
Likewise, I got a chance to talk briefly with Dr. Stuart Levine, President and Chief Medical Officer of MedStar Harbor Hospital, who I had heard speak only a week before at the unveiling of the mural that now sits in the lobby of the hospital’s Emergency Department. This mural, which focused on how cells and viruses interact with human and animal bodies, was created by sixth-grade biology students from Brooklyn Park Middle School. The project was the result of a multi-week Young Audiences teaching artist residency in partnership with Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI). So here was yet another way that a group, which is pivotal to the lives and health of its local community, had found a way to connect with young students, perhaps sparking future collaborations?
And that is just a small sampling of the conversations I had at my table alone. As I looked across the room, I could only imagine what discussions, ideas, creative solutions, and inspirational tales were being shared elsewhere. Knowing that so many people had gathered because they have a passion to improve the educational lives of our youth, I came away from the event feeling recharged, hopeful and, yes, ready to find fresh ways to kindle the spark – in whatever myriad forms it appears – in my own life and those of others.
Indeed, there is no telling what particular spark at what precise table will catch fire and generate a lasting, positive impact.
But that’s the Impact Breakfast for you – a kaleidoscope of people who are sparking change and impacting the future for our children!
Over the summer, Baltimore City Public School principals convened for the third time to attend a professional development course unlike any other. The first session was held in May at the Baltimore Museum of Industry where they explored the many ways arts and creativity intertwine with local industry of both the past and the future. The second, at Creative Alliance, where the group attended a workshop and lunch with Artesanas Mexicanas, a group of talented Mexican women, now residents of Southeast Baltimore, who share their rich cultures and folkloric traditions through art.
On this third session, principals gathered on a stage where so many critically acclaimed actors and singers have stood before. Looking out into the house of the Hippodrome Theatre, one could only imagine the thrill a performer might feel standing before a crowd of fans.
But how does an actor get to the stage? And what needs to happen for a show to go on? What can Baltimore City Public Schools do to prepare students for careers in theatre? These are some of the questions local principals explored in Creative Collaborations for School Improvement, a leadership course designed for principals to experience first-hand the many facets of Baltimore arts and cultural organizations, as well as how innovative partnerships with area cultural resources can help schools prepare their students for careers in fields related to the industry.
Throughout the course, principals have the opportunity to build strong relationships with not only engaged cultural organizations, but with expert teaching artists, like YA roster artists Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers and internationally acclaimed slam poet Gayle Danley, as well as guest speakers including arts integration advocates.
“I do think that in my 31 years in City Schools that the Creative Collaborations for School Improvement course is among the most beneficial professional developments in which I have participated,” said Sinclair Lane Elementary School principal Roxanne Thorn-Lumpkins.
The principals were briefed on the history of the renowned theatre, then were led on a tech tour of the space by assistant electrician Danyela Marks. High above the stage is home to the control center of all of a production’s moving parts: the fly system. Thick, strong ropes, levers, weights and counterweights are all strung taut, connected precisely and purposefully, reminiscent of the inside of a piano. Any movement on the set during a production: a wall sliding, scenes changing, or an actor flying, is made from here. To work on this side of the curtain, they discover, a person needs a solid foundation in math and physics.
The group descended from the tech booth to the dressing rooms, located one level beneath the stage. Here, among the bright lights and mirrors, they learned about the Hippodrome Foundation (HFI), its mission & educational outreach programs, and how their schools can take advantage of them. They spoke with Olive Waxter, Director of the Hippodrome Foundation and Ron Legler, President of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center about their institutions’ commitment to providing opportunity in the community.
Former long-time Baltimore Sun critic and current WYPR theatre critic Judy Wynn Rousuck met principals for a fun written exercise. Part of Judy’s work with HFI centers on enhancing written communication skills with young people. On this day, she challenged the educators to write a short descriptive piece using just one of their fives senses to illustrate their subject. It is easy to imagine the excitement young people must feel in Judy’s classes when they see their words come alive and work together to paint a vivid picture.
Of course, no visit to the theatre is complete without getting a taste of the performers’ experience. So here, on the Hippodrome Stage, principals stepped into students’ shoes to work with co-director of the Hippodrome Foundation’s summer theatre camp, Becky Mossing, education director Barb Wirsing, and Markia Smith, a former camper, now a counselor to learn a number from the musical 70, Girls, 70. At the piano, they worked on vocals. The group then moved on to blocking (the movements and positions actors are assigned on stage), and after some practice, revealed their grand performance of “Coffee (In a Cardboard Cup).” And they did a pretty great job.
The next Creative Collaborations for School Improvement course will be held at Center Stage on October 7, 2017. Principals and assistant principals who would like to register for the course should contact Valeriya Nakshun for more information.
Co-authored by Barbara Krebs, a Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member.
We grow up in the United States hearing that we get what we pay for. Such is the case with investments in the greater good. That’s one of the many reasons we’re so passionate about teaching in and through the arts. From our country’s youngest students to our aging seniors, the entire population benefits in both the short- and long-term from the arts, whether it be emotionally, socially, or intellectually.
Non-profit arts organizations like us work hard to both generate sustainable programming and seek support from private and corporate funders so that we may fulfill our mission to positively impact the greatest number of Maryland children with the highest quality arts-integrated educational programming. Federal funding may only be a piece of our funding picture, but it is an important one.
We are excited and proud that the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Young Audiences of Maryland $90,000– one of only seven total Collective Impact Grants awarded nationwide– for the Arts Empowered Minds Initiative (AEMI) in Northern Anne Arundel County! The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative utilizes arts integration programming to boost achievement, parental involvement, student engagement, and empathy. Programming includes in-school arts integration, out-of-school arts programming, and professional development for teachers. In addition, the program will partner with community organizations to create family engagement opportunities, such as providing family passes to the new Maker Space at Chesapeake Arts Center.
The program is the culmination of the work of many groups and individuals seeking to build a movement for increased equity through the arts in their community. With funding from the NEA in 2016, we built partnerships with Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC), Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance (AEMS), Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, and University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC). Together, we have already provided professional development to over 100 teachers, and delivered high-quality arts-in-education programs to nearly 2,500 students at six schools.
“This second grant from the NEA will allow us to both deepen and expand our reach and maximize existing resources to ultimately bring the impact of arts integration to almost every student in Northern Anne Arundel County,” Stacie Sanders Evans, Executive Director of Young Audiences explained. The Arts Empowered Minds Initiative will expand from six schools to all 12 public schools in Northern Anne Arundel County and impact more than 7,000 students in grades pre-k through 12.
To be clear, it’s not the NEA’s budget that is proposed to be cut; it’s the NEA itself that is on the line. It’s important to think about this as it impacts local communities and groups. And, should the NEA be eliminated, it will impact our community. When vital, far-reaching, and life-altering programs are at risk, we must speak up. And it’s surprisingly simple and quick to let your voice be heard. Identify your legislators. Email your senator. Call your representative. Write a letter.
Take 2 minutes now to contact your members of Congress and join the #SAVEtheNEA campaign. Involved citizens can and do make a difference. Please, join us in the fight to keep the arts alive and accessible in our nation, state, and community. We get what we pay for. And, when we invest wisely, what we get is more than we could have ever even hoped for.
Written by Barbara Krebs, a Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member
With all the talk of entirely eliminating funding for organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from the federal budget, a recent Washington Post Magazine article caught my attention. The June 11, 2017 issue featured a boldly colored cover and the caption, “Is Arts Funding Essential or Wasteful? We traveled the country to find out.”
I was especially intrigued since one of the arts projects they highlighted was in Wilson, NC – where I lived as a teenager. I admit that I haven’t been back in many years, but I had heard from friends that the town had fallen on hard times as tobacco warehouses (once the backbone of the economy) closed down.
The article opened with the development of Whirligig Park, which is dedicated to the artwork created by Vollis Simpson, who fashioned giant whirligigs out of scrap metal that he collected from his day job of transporting houses and heavy machinery. Before his death in 2013, Simpson had gained quite a following; the man and his artwork had been featured in publications that range from The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and the Smithsonian Magazine, among many.
As I read the Post article, it highlighted how the NEA had been “an early believer in the civic power of Simpson’s creations.” With the help of the organization and its grants, locals also began seeing the possibilities – to draw tourists and their dollars to Wilson – and skeptics gradually became believers. People who had originally viewed Simpson’s whirligigs as junk now began to see how the arts could help revitalize a moribund downtown.
But just as all politics is local, so too are the arts. You focus on where you live. With that in mind, a quick check of the NEA web site revealed that in the Fall of 2016, 19 grants, totaling $520,000, were awarded to a variety of Maryland arts groups. And while these groups range widely in mission and artistic focus, two things stood out: 1) how many of these groups reach out with the arts to educate and 2) these NEA grants create much-needed jobs.
Over the years NEA support has made it possible for Young Audiences to reach children in every county in our state…
Under the education category, award recipients include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program, which provides Baltimore City Public School students with a music and mentorship program; Wide Angle Youth Media, Inc., which teaches students how to share their voices through media arts education; The National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc., whose Adopt-A-Teller Program places African American storytellers in schools for performances and workshops to share and preserve the rich heritage of the African Oral Tradition; Arts on the Block (AOB) who provides teens in and around Montgomery County real-world work experiences through the arts; and World Arts Focus in Mount Rainier, for a program developed improve the health, identity, and independence of teenagers and adults with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other disabilities through dance.
Over the years NEA support has made it possible for Young Audiences to reach children in every county in our state and has provided consistent support for teaching artist training, ensuring that our programs are not only accessible and affordable to underserved students, but are of high quality and enhance the curriculum of our schools.
What about the job creation category? Here are a few thoughts on the economic impact of the arts in our communities.
- Employment opportunities – we’re not just talking artists and dancers here. The arts also employ carpenters, electricians and many other technical and administrative jobs needed to produce showcases, exhibitions and museum presentations.
- Arts education – at Young Audiences we see every day, firsthand, what a huge impact the arts have in helping students connect to reading, math, and science. Educated youth become educated adults with jobs that create a tax base.
- Tourism – Many struggling small towns, and even larger cities, have boosted the local economy by creating arts zones, which draw in tourists, which, in turn, creates the need for restaurants, hotels, and other tourist-oriented businesses.
So what lesson can we take from all this? I think it is simply that the arts do matter – a lot. The arts help create and maintain vibrant community ties, which in turn translates into real economic impact. Before the Post Magazine article caught my eye, I had read an article in the April 2017 issue of Our State, Celebrating North Carolina. I read about 217 Brew Works, which opened last November, hmm, across the street from Whirligig Park. Tourists certainly enjoy the proximity of the brewery to the park, but more importantly, locals are the true economic boosters – coming down to talk, to relax and to enjoy their community’s new meeting spot.
It’s also worth noting that when the arts are supported, great synergies are created. For example the Our State article ended with, “another developer has moved forward with plans to create Whirligig Station – apartments, restaurants, and some office space – in an empty red-brick tobacco warehouse on another edge of the park.”
Far from being an unnecessary frill as some critics of the NEA portray it, what is readily apparent is how many small communities discovered an economic lifeline from the grants that the NEA provides. The closed factory, the shuttered mill, the abandoned plant are sadly a fact of life in too many small towns. But as many of them have discovered, there are opportunities here as well. Who knows what might happen in your community when you combine artistic vision, a good beer, and an NEA grant?
Young Audiences teaching artist Ssuuna, a dancer, musician, and storyteller from Uganda, brought his incredible stage presence to Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School recently. There, he taught over 100 high school students African dance and drumming using the same focused energy and passion he delivers on stage. What struck the teachers in attendance, however, was how well Ssuuna guided his students in building a community and how expertly he handled distractions in the classroom, even with pointed interruptions.
“He never raised his voice with them, but made it clear that their choices would have consequences,” recognized Mrs. Black, a 9th-grade teacher at the school. By encouraging students to examine each of his or her options and the consequences and rewards that go along with them, Ssuuna cultivates classrooms built on cooperation and encouragement. “He put the responsibility on the students to take ownership of their actions and choices, and it was very meaningful for students to have that responsibility.”
Another participating teacher, Mr. Hughes, observed that the residency made students feel more relevant. “Ssuuna met the students where they were and gave them confidence and a sense of belonging, no matter what their interest,” he said. This “relevancy” seemed to be felt not only internally, but collectively. Participants created their own inclusive ritual by uniting and forming a prayer circle before performing at the culminating dance. Mrs. Black recalled how powerful the moment felt to her, “I was really inspired to see all kinds of students coming together to be supportive and work as a team in that way.”
It is so important for students to be understanding, especially at this age, rather than making others feel like they don’t fit in.
The culminating dance introduced one last challenge when a student suffered a panic attack onstage. Ssuuna stepped in to join the student and spoke with her. In the moments that followed, she was able to regain control, breathing and finally relaxing. Teachers could actually see the transition from panic to calm occur within the student. Mrs. Black described the experience as transcendent for the teachers, the students, and the audience. “That moment made the whole experience feel more intimate, supportive, and vulnerable,” Mrs. Black explained. By witnessing first-hand Ssuuna’s kindness and encouragement with the student in distress, the audience was inspired to also be encouraging and supportive. “It is so important for students to be understanding, especially at this age, rather than making others feel like they don’t fit in.”
By Jessica Porter, Young Audiences Program Director
Tuesday morning in Baltimore began with a somber tone. As community members cleaned up our streets, led peaceful demonstrations, and opened their doors to their neighbors who needed a place to go, reflect, and process, something beautiful began to happen.
Early on in the day, I was struggling to find ways to productively volunteer. Despite our initial frustrations, the Young Audiences staff worked collaboratively with each other and with our artists to identify ways to positively affect the lives of quite a few people in meaningful, creative, and important ways throughout the day.
Young Audiences’ musician Kevin Martin volunteered to provide his Steel Drum Experience program, with children and volunteers who were spending the day at The 29th Street Community Center. Our very own Chief Innovation Officer Pat Cruz and several Young Audiences staff partnered with puppeteer Michael Lamason to get arts activities, such as mural painting, puppet making, and a free puppet show, off the ground at Black Cherry Puppet Theater.
This doesn’t even touch on the powerful work our artists were doing on their own! In a 10-minute span of the local news Tuesday evening, I saw at least four different artists I’ve worked with in some capacity during my time at Young Audiences right in the epicenter of the healing taking place in our city. Having long been active members of the communities in which they live, many of our artists are poised to lead the change that our city deserves.
When Kevin called me to say he was on his way to the 29th Street Community Center, I decided to come along. There were only about a dozen students at the center, and probably just as many volunteers, but seeing the smiles on those kids faces was the hope that I needed. I could tell the experience provided a much needed spark for the other adults too. The students chose to name our band “Monkey Kids.” Though we had only 40 minutes together, at the end we performed a rough rendition of the Toots and the Maytals’ song “Monkey Man”–and everyone walked away beaming.
Across town at Black Cherry Puppet Theater, more than 30 kids and parents gathered to draw, paint, and create their own puppets before a free puppet show mid-afternoon. This was a true community effort, as artists donated their time and volunteers contributed food and labor.
We’ve all got a lot of work to do in order to see the change our city needs, but I am more confident than ever in the transformational power of our work, and thanks to my experience, I am once again hopeful for our city’s future.
On a Monday afternoon in late June, students filled the Goodnow Community Center for the Summer Showcase, a vibrant display of visual and performing arts. The art shown was created by students, families, and community members through programs with Young Audiences teaching artists. Young Audiences has partnered with Goodnow since 2008 to bring a combination of arts assembly and residency programs to students attending the spring afterschool and summer programs at the center, which are made possible through generous funding from the Macht Fund of THE ASSOCIATED.
“We’re very fortunate that we have been able to have Young Audiences work with the Goodnow Community Center for the past six years,” said Gloria Jenkins, director of the center. “Our children have grown through their help.”
Those who stopped by the Summer Showcase got a taste of Young Audiences’ programs immediately when walking through the door, as students’ photographs taken with artist Christina Delgado were displayed by the entrance. These stunning images varied from full portraits to up-close snapshots.
First to perform at the showcase was Young Audiences roster ensemble Illstyle and Peace Productions, a dance company whose work focuses on the movement and spirit of Hip Hop. In her introduction for the group, Gloria noted, “When we’re planning events, the students always remind me to ‘get those boys that dance.’”
Illstyle and Peace Productions’ performance, titled NO Bullying, STOP Bullying: Let’s Be Friends, incorporated contemporary and old school dance moves with the positive message of acceptance. Throughout the show, cheers could be heard from all corners of the packed room. The program’s message was clear: when asked why they shouldn’t bully others, students passionately replied that they should treat others the way they want to be treated.
Acting as a backdrop for Illstyle and Peace Productions’ performance was a mural students created with the help of Young Audiences visual artist Danyett Tucker. “We came together and thought of a positive message we wanted to share with the community,” Danyett explained. The students decided on a quote from Harriet Tubman about following your dreams:
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
“We’re hoping that it will be used in performances for years to come,” said Danyett of the final product.
Coming together as a village and a community was the theme of the afternoon. It was especially prevalent during the unveiling of the “Mural Without Borders” artwork adorning the Goodnow Community Center’s facade. A sixth-month-long project, the work was created by members of the community with ceramic artist Herb Massie. It depicts the community’s past and present.
“The mural involved different aspects of the community to help put it together,” Rev. Kevin Bacon, Baltimore City Fire Dept. Chaplain said. “Police officers, the church, and schools all got involved.”
Retired Baltimore City Police Officer Craig Singleterry added, “People always say it takes a village. Well, this is our village.”
Though the project brought together all members of the community, it seemed to especially impact students. Rita Crews, a teacher at Hazelwood Elementary who helped students with the mural, shared, “The students were always eager to come in, even on Saturdays. They were the ones reminding me that we had to get to work.”
Barbara Combs, artist and art educator, believes that this interest in art has a practical application, noting that there “isn’t any career that art doesn’t touch.”
For Officer Singleterry, it’s also about showing students that they can do more. “Programs like these give students a new outlook on what they can do, from poetry to dance to music,” he said. “Young Audiences has brought more into their view.”