Arts for Learning (A4L) is pleased to announce it has received the largest grant in its organization’s 68-year history. Over the next three years, the $97,500 Cultural Vitality grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation will fund a series of arts-integrated afterschool programs at high-need schools in south Hampton Roads, guided by Arts for Learning’s professional teaching artists.
The project is named IDEAL, Intentional Designs of Expression in Artistic Languages, and will target fifth-grade students in the critical year before they transition to middle school. During the course of each ten-week residency, students will create multiple mixed media works of art as they explore various aspects of self-identity through dance, written and spoken poetry, and visual art. Approximately 270 students from nine different elementary schools are expected to participate, drawn from the Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk Public School divisions, with one school per division taking part each year. Students will have the opportunity to collaborate with students from outside of their own schools and see how they and others impact and fit into the wider Hampton Roads’ community.
Meeting twice a week in 90-minute sessions, the students in each school’s residency will be led by Arts for Learning’s teaching artists who are experts in their particular art forms. A4L’s education and program team developed the curriculum, which is tied to various Virginia Standards of Learning, including visual arts, dance, English, and social-emotional learning. The program’s highlight each year will be a collaborative art exhibit of student work from all three schools, hosted by the Chrysler Museum.
“To bring students to the museum and show them it’s their place to have a voice is just an amazing opportunity,” said Anna Green, chief operations officer for Arts for Learning. “It may inspire them to go on and create art or find their voice in writing or in other ways, and they’ll also learn how to build pieces of community within where they live, outside of where they live, and then bring it all together into one. There will be 270 students that will see their work professionally hung in a professional museum. I can’t even bring words to how important that is, to make the museum accessible and for students to feel like they’re a part of a larger community.”
In addition to helping students develop creative and artistic talents, the IDEAL project is designed to increase students’ self-worth, while improving their academic performance and decreasing absenteeism and problem behaviors. For students entering adolescence, the year before middle school is a crossroads, as they are faced with choices that impact their future selves academically, socially, and physically. Decades of research connects positive self-worth with a reduction in risky behaviors. With studies showing the pandemic’s devastating toll on students—along with a disturbing rise in crime—the need is great to provide effective interventions that boost the self-worth of at-risk students at a critical life stage.
“We’re looking to reach the students who are struggling, to give them that hands-on opportunity to discover their voice through the arts and to broaden their view of community,” Green said. She pointed out that the fifth-graders who will participate in the first year of the project entered the pandemic as second-graders, missing out on the key socialization and building of community that typically happens during third and fourth grades.
Collaboration is a central feature of the IDEAL project: among student peers within the same school and other schools, and among Arts for Learning and its community partners—the Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk school divisions, the Chrysler Museum, and the Richmond Ballet. Partnering with the Richmond Ballet and the Chrysler will deepen each student’s artistic experience.
The Richmond Ballet will present a series of in-school performances for third to fifth graders enrolled at each school, reaching a larger community of students beyond those participating in the residencies.
The Chrysler will present a virtual gallery talk on art works that exemplify human expression, examining elements such as color, line, shape, and composition that students can use to inspire their own sketches. In addition, by hosting exhibits each year of student artwork created during the project, the Chrysler will bring together students from all of the schools, along with their families. Students will be transported to and from the event by bus at no cost, so that each has the opportunity to attend.
The IDEAL project is the largest and most ambitious in Arts for Learning’s history,” said Christine Everly, A4L’s chief executive officer. “We’re excited to partner with two other respected arts organizations and three of our school divisions in Hampton Roads. And we’re proud and humbled that the Hampton Roads Community Foundation has placed its trust in us by funding this project.”