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Arts for Learning Set to Launch Ambitious Series of Residencies
Norfolk, Va. (Feb. 16, 2023) – Arts for Learning (A4L), the Virginia affiliate of Young Audiences, Inc., is preparing for the launch of a series of arts-integrated afterschool programs at high-need schools in south Hampton Roads, the most ambitious project in the organization’s 68-year history.
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 explore themes of self-identity, collaboration, and community through different art forms: dance, written and spoken poetry, and visual art. The project will take place over the next three years, ending in the spring of 2025. Approximately 270 students from nine different Title 1 elementary schools are expected to participate over the course of the project, drawn from the Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach public school divisions, with one school per division taking part each year.
Meeting twice a week in 90-minute sessions, the students in each school’s residency will be led by Arts for Learning’s professional teaching artists who are experts in their particular art forms. The program’s highlight each year will take place at the Chrysler Museum where students from all three schools will come together to perform for family and friends and show off their artwork. This year’s special event is set for May 11. The Chrysler has donated gallery space where students’ work will be displayed for 30 days or more.
“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.”
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. 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 have found positive self-worth correlates 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 Virginia Beach 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 Ballet will also introduce residency students to the technical elements of movement.
- 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 all have the opportunity to attend.
The opening sessions of the residencies are scheduled for March 7. Students will be led by teaching artists Cindy Aitken, Gary Garlic, and Jennifer Graham at Lindenwood Elementary in Norfolk, Asiko-oluwa Aderin and Nathan Richardson at Westhaven Elementary in Portsmouth, and Jackie Adonis and Valerie Davis at College Park Elementary in Virginia Beach. No student will be charged a fee to participate in the IDEAL program.
The bulk of the project’s funding comes from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, which awarded Arts for Learning a Cultural Vitality grant of $97,500—the largest grant in the organization’s history—to be paid over the course of three years. Other funders for the first year of the project include Arts Alliance, Norfolk Arts and Humanities Commission, PRA Group, Portsmouth Museum and Fine Arts Commission, Tidewater Children’s Foundation, the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia Commission for the Arts, and Walmart.
“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.”
Information about Arts for Learning: Young Audiences of Virginia, Inc., doing business as Arts for Learning, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Norfolk. Now in its 68th year, Arts for Learning’s mission is to inspire and engage students in and through the arts. A4L’s professional musicians, dancers, and visual and literary artists use their art forms as teaching tools to integrate curriculum concepts with the arts and to expose students to a great diversity of cultures and traditions.