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Investing in the ArtsQuest Education Experience

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By Emily Cummins, Public Relations Coordinator

Thirty-nine dollars – that’s all it takes!

Over the past two years, ArtsQuest has been able to double its educational programs for youth and adults thanks to the community’s continued generous support. But, for less than what it costs for a couple to go out to dinner, the nonprofit could provide one additional student from an underserved community with an immersive, two-month educational experience that might change her life forever.

“ArtsQuest’s education programs are designed for young people who often lack the resources to access high-quality art enrichment programs,” says ArtsQuest Director of Education and Outreach Lisa Harms. “Through our unique educational experiences, students are able to create and appreciate art as they build social, cognitive and fine motor skills. Most program sessions culminate with an exhibition of students’ work, which helps these young people build self-confidence and take pride in their accomplishments.”

Over the past decade, ArtsQuest has focused on piloting and developing new educational programming starting with the Bethlehem Area School District, the school district in which the nonprofit is based. Thanks to a strong partnership with the district, Harms says, ArtsQuest’s programs are able to supplement the school’s curriculum and align with the district’s core values of student engagement and personal skill development.

It’s Harms’ goal, however, to reach more students in the Lehigh Valley, and with that comes new hurdles.

“Transportation really is the number-one barrier we face with access to the arts, and that’s because it is cost prohibitive for most school districts,” she says.

In just one example, more than 150 Bethlehem Area School District students annually attend ArtSmart, ArtsQuest’s flagship after-school art enrichment program at the Banana Factory, where teaching artists offer classes in mediums like ceramics, glassblowing, photography, mosaics, painting and more. Harms says raising additional dollars would open up doors to expand the program to additional BASD schools, as well as other school districts.

“The cost to provide busing to and from the Banana Factory averages about $39 per student over the course of a two-month program,” says Harms.  “If we could raise an additional $4,000 to $5,000 annually, it would open up this immersive, arts-based educational experience to approximately 125 additional students in two or three new school districts.  While that may not seem like a large amount of money, the impact it would have on our students would be enormous.”

In an effort to address transportation funding concerns, ArtsQuest has partnered with area schools to provide ArtSmart Outreach and Visiting Artists Residencies where teaching artists go into a classroom to teach jointly with the school’s art teacher for up to eight weeks. Residencies include field trips to the Banana Factory and a culminating exhibition of the students’ work, usually a large-scale collaborative project, at the Banana Factory or in the school.

“Students in our 4th and 5th grades enjoyed the experience of having a working artist visit,” says Donegan Elementary School Art Teacher Tiffany Anderson of her students’ educational experience with ArtsQuest last year. “With artist Devyn Briggs students learned about many different cultures and how to create a fabric batik quilt. Then all the students who were involved were welcomed to visit the Banana Factory and the 2017 SouthSide Arts & Music Festival where the quilt was exhibited for the public, and they had so much fun.”

Now the students’ collaborative quilt, which represents many different cultures, hangs in Donegan’s gymnasium. One year later, Anderson says these students continue to talk about their experience working with a professional artist in their new art classes.
“By having a real working artist visit and work with students, our students were able to make connections to our community and gain a new perspective in the art world,” she says. “This is super great because by making these connections students are learning to how to work like real artists.”

Even with visiting artists residencies, Harms tries to incorporate some element of off-campus learning to enhance the program.
“The experience of coming to the Banana Factory is more impactful for students because it offers them exposure to the high-quality programs that exist in their own community, as well as exposure to working artists who have made careers out of their talents,” she says. “Bringing the students to our facility builds a familiarity with the Banana Factory and all that ArtsQuest has to offer. In a child’s limited time here with ArtSmart or any other program we try to encourage return visits and a lifelong love of the arts.”

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, students benefit from art experiences outside of the classroom because creative learning at cultural institutions is “critical to a child’s academic development.” The NEA cites numerous studies that show arts education outside of the confines of a student’s school increases critical thinking skills, encourages empathy and creates an inclusive environment where children of all backgrounds and skills can participate and engage.

Teachers also benefit from supplemental arts education by having the ability to expose students to a more diverse range of artistic disciplines. The Wallace Foundation, a national philanthropy based in New York City, stresses the importance of supporting arts programs that take place in “dedicated, inspiring, welcoming spaces that affirm the value of art and artists.”

The majority of ArtsQuest’s education and outreach programs are offered at no cost to local schools, with funding supplied through grants and donations. As of 2018, eight new school programs were approved for funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which supports the “hard costs” of running the programs like supplies and paying the teachers’ salaries.

“After that, the struggle becomes ‘How do we get students to our free programming,’” Harms says. “When schools look to fund transportation for after-school programs or field trips, they often have to look to outside sources like grants or donors.”
Dr. Jack Silva, Bethlehem Area School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Education and Chief Academic Officer, says his school district is fortunate to be surrounded by a diverse and robust arts community, but transportation costs sometimes play a role in how many off-site arts education experiences students can take part in.

“There are a wide-range of opportunities for our students to experience the arts, from the artist studios at the Banana Factory to the performance spaces at the ArtsQuest Center,” Silva says. “However, in order for us to take full advantage of local art-making and performance experiences, the school district needs to bus students to these creative spaces.

“Our goal is to provide as many opportunities as possible for young people to visit these resources dedicated to the arts, but with our budget being limited, we often rely on support from outside sources to help make these experiences possible.”

ArtsQuest programs that could benefit from financial support of transportation costs include field trips, an expansion of ArtSmart throughout the region and the Levitt Pavilion Master Class Sessions, where professional musicians meet with students from the Broughal and East Hills Middle School jazz bands for in-classroom instruction on how to play the band’s songs. The sessions are followed by a performance at Donegan Elementary School for 200 children.

“The Master Class program concludes with an invitation for students to bring their families to the group’s free Levitt Pavilion performance at SteelStacks that night,” Harms says. “However, with additional transportation funding we could actually host an exclusive performance for students on our site, with the potential to reach more than 1,000 children during the school day.

“Ultimately with any program, our impact will be greater and our reach will be farther if transportation is no longer a barrier.”