Metropolitan Youth Orchestra is one of the many arts organizations that could serve as a partner with Any Given Child. They target low-income and inner-city schools to provide children and families with an opportunity to experience and learn classical music. Parents are invited to learn instruments alongside the kids. The children are able to take part at a fraction of the operating cost. Founder and artistic director Betty Perry makes it a point to make sure that students have rides to and from lessons, have opportunities to hear the ISO play and have access to the symphony's musicians. Perry herself is a classical musician whose life was impacted by arts education.
NUVO: What role did arts education play for you as a musician and as a person?
In arts education I had the opportunity to meet some really wonderful teachers and mentors from the time I was in junior high school ... Art education, for me, was a way to understand how I process or how I learn. That is our goal: to help out children and how they learn. Many children do not process through the left brain, they need the right brain to help them relate to the subjects of STEM. It's vital. So if you take that from them ... they begin to believe that they are stupid. They aren't stupid ... I believe that arts education is vital.
NUVO: You mentioned that you want to break socioeconomic boundaries. How do you ensure that you do that?
The program is heavily subsidized by the ISO. That's so we can make sure that all kids and all families can be in this program. We don't turn children away even when we are swamped with applicants. The whole program is $180 for the season. It costs us about $2,000.
NUVO: How do you ensure that you are bringing in students from different areas and neighborhoods of town?
We are working in an underserved neighborhood ... We specifically have targeted inner-city kids without the exclusion of other children. And we do target IPS.
Supporting arts educators
We have spent a lot of time talking about arts education.
But what is it like for someone who is actually working with students on visual art on a day-to-day basis? Mary Jo Bayliss is an art teacher at Christel House Academy for middle and high school students. Her school is a charter school — which was originally not included in Any Given Child, but since has been enveloped in the program — that focuses on low income families. While she is able to see her students much more than many other IPS programs, teaching is not without challenges.
NUVO: You mentioned that your school is very supportive of the arts. Are you able to receive the funding that you need?
Yes, and part of it because of the connections that we have through Crystal DeHaan and the DeHaan foundation. Grants have been written for us. For example, the Telamon Foundation has funded the art program for two years now.
NUVO: Tell me a little bit about what a typical day is like when you have the kids working on a project.
A snapshot of how the week is scheduled, because it's an AB schedule, [is] the first day what we do is look at some art, the historical time period where that art came from. The artist from that era. The assignment that they are working on right now. Then the next day for the hour and half that they have is a work day. Then the 45 minutes that I have them on Fridays is an in-progress critique of their work. That's kind of the cycle that the classes go through. (Right now middle school is working on a self-portrait based on the book Where the Wild Things Are.
NUVO: Tell me about some of the struggles your kids have faced.
A lot of the kids have really been affected negatively by all of the violence by the police this past summer. They're afraid, especially my Black kids, they are afraid. This one boy, who is in eighth grade, was telling me about how on the street where he lives and his mother owns a day care. There was a guy chasing another guy down the street, shooting. And they all had to get under the tables in the day care. That's the kind of neighborhoods that kids who go to this school come from."
NUVO: How does that affect your kids when it comes to an art classroom?
Bayliss: With all of their classes they are afraid to try new things because they are afraid of being wrong. It affects their confidence levels. That means when we teach we really need to praise successes and take things in small steps ... We really have to work on our classroom community.