As we wrap up the summer and prepare programming for the fall, we wanted to take a moment to share highlights from the last year, one that was filled with unprecedented challenges and many accomplishments. We found new and innovative ways to reach the children and families of Virginia with the power of the arts, despite COVID-19 restrictions. And we look forward to continuing to do so, wherever and however students are being schooled. Enjoy!
Tidewater Family Plus featured Arts for Living’s CEO, Chris Everly, in its March issue. As a parent, what did she tell her son when he was thinking about a job in the arts? Click below to read her answer! https://www.tidewaterfamily.com/learning-fun/art-folks-meet-christine-everly
Plus there’s much more, including how COVID-19 has changed Arts for Learning for the better.
Woo-hoo! It’s a happy day here at Arts for Learning, as we were thrilled to receive the Dominion Energy ArtStars Award for Eastern Virginia last night at the Virginia Commission for the Arts’ live virtual conference. Dominion Energy presented the award, which comes with a $10,000 prize, for A4L’s “Take 10” digital programming, recognizing the project’s innovation, enterprise, and artistic quality.
When Virginia’s schools shut down last March, more than 350 hours of our programming was canceled, threatening our mission to connect students with the power of the arts. But our mission was not interrupted. Within days, the Arts for Learning office in Norfolk was transformed into a makeshift recording studio, artists took a leap of faith and tried something new, and our program team figured it out on the fly, including how to shoot and edit video while following strict safety protocols required by the global pandemic. The result: 118 ten-minute video segments that served as engaging and educational art breaks for students and families who were suddenly thrust into remote learning.
Take 10 was a major team effort,” says Christine Everly, CEO of Arts for Learning. “We had no budget, no prior expertise, and no production studio—but we knew we had to find a way around those obstacles. Especially during the COVID crisis with students learning at home, we needed to reach them through the power of the arts. And we also wanted to provide some income for our artists who suddenly found themselves unemployed.”
Participating artists received stipends for their work on Take 10. The program ended in June, but Arts for Learning’s commitment to quality virtual arts programming did not. Thanks to an investment in new video technology and additional training for staff and artists, Arts for Learning now offers dozens of virtual arts experiences to schools, libraries, and community centers. The $10,000 ArtStars’ prize money will support Arts for Learning’s efforts to continue to build a digital library of engaging and innovative new programming to connect students with the arts, wherever and however they are being schooled.
Some organizations do so much for the community that it’s hard to overstate their impact. The Hampton Roads Community Foundation is one such organization. Through its COVID-19 relief grants, the foundation has extended a lifeline to many area nonprofits that are struggling financially because of effects from the pandemic.
We are delighted to report that the Foundation has awarded us $15,000 under its special grant to provide COVID-related relief to arts organizations. We pledge to use the money wisely, as we build our programming of virtual arts experiences to meet students wherever and however they’re being schooled. Thank you to the Foundation for its support.
The Hampton Roads Community Foundation is southeastern Virginia’s largest grant and scholarship provider. Since its founding in 1950, the regional community foundation has provided more than $301 million in grants and scholarships to improve life in southeastern Virginia.
As Virginia public school students get ready to head back to school next week, many will once again be experiencing virtual learning. We take a moment to look back on this Throwback Thursday to a time last winter before Virginia schools shut down and our artists worked with students in-person.
Sometimes a single moment can illustrate the power of an Arts for Learning program.
That was the case at Rhythm and Me, an adaptive dance residency that connects students living with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Students from throughout Portsmouth Public Schools are transported to Simonsdale Elementary School twice a week to learn the basics of dance and movement, with a focus on key health concerns associated with ASD, including non-verbal communication.
A4L teaching artists Jasmine Marshall and Natasha Leshanski have been working with a group of students since early February. Natasha, who leads the yoga portion of the program, says it’s the “very opposite” of typical classroom learning, where students are expected to be self-contained as they lean over desks and aren’t free to move around. In Rhythm and Me, students exercise, stretch out, and open their bodies, Natasha says it’s also “helping them feel less vulnerable about opening up emotionally by literally using their whole body.” That process may be more challenging for students living with ASD who can feel uncomfortable with certain types of movement or with touching or being touched.
In the early weeks of the program, Natasha had been encouraging students to create more independent yoga poses, but it wasn’t quite working. She introduced the concept of partner poses, including one called “lizard on a rock,” with the person on the bottom kneeling in a child’s pose and the person on the top leaning back and extending their arms to the ground.
A second-grader named Seth was fascinated. Natasha says he’s often not interested in certain activities and will choose to run laps around the classroom instead. This time, though, was different. With Jasmine stretched out in the child’s pose, Seth climbed on her back as the “lizard” and Natasha supported him as he balanced himself. He then tried out the post with other students, connecting with them in a brand new way.
“It was the first time Seth had relinquished control over his body, so when he was laying across his classmate’s back, he even was able to draw his arms up and get that full stretch. When you think about it, that’s probably the most vulnerable position you can be in,” Natasha says. “He let himself go all the way in a classroom full with people he doesn’t know very well, and so I felt like it was really a breakthrough with his comfort level with all of that.”
The goal of Rhythm and Me, Natasha says, isn’t the perfect downward dog or the precise execution of partner poses.
“We want the kids to feel confident, we want them to be moving their bodies, and we want them to enjoy themselves. So everything else takes a back seat to those. As long as they’re willing to put themselves out there, it’s success, day after day.”
We are grateful to the Portsmouth General Hospital Foundation, the Portsmouth Service League, the Helen G. Gifford Foundation, the Business Consortium for Arts Support, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts for their funding of the Rhythm and Me dance residency.
We look forward to serving students both virtually and, when safe, in person, and we wish all students and educators a successful start to the school year. If you’d like information about our special arts experiences created for virtual learning, please click here.