THE POWER OF ART
While working for the Institute of Musical Traditions in 1995, Busy Graham noticed a problem. There was a need for top quality arts enrichment programs in schools and few work opportunities for artists during the work week.
“Arts can play such a vital role in helping kids finding their path to a good, healthy life,” she said.
Since then, CAA has grown into an accredited, award-winning regional outreach arts education nonprofit that brings arts programs to school and underserved communities in the DMV. CAA has reached more than 5 million young people via more than 25,000 artist programs, according to executive director James Modrick.
“(Class Acts Arts) brings the arts to people where they are,” said Modrick.
Artists visit schools, youth detention centers, and other community-based organizations. The interactive programs include workshops, performances, and artist residencies. CAA’s programs introduce schools and communities to a variety of art forms, such as storytelling, puppet shows and dance, among others.
She said she has seen her students “realize the power of art.”
“Through the arts we can find common ground,” she said, “we can make connections. Because I work in the correctional facility, people are from very different backgrounds… but sitting around a table and making art, the things that separate them don’t matter anymore because they are sharing a common goal.”
CREATING A POSITIVE IMPACT
While CAA works in many venues and with different populations, the bulk of programming is focused on youth.
“(We) engage children’s minds in a different way that opens their minds and motivates,” said Modrick.
CAA’s teaching model doesn’t include grades or teaching to the test. Instead, CAA artists try to bring out students’ talents by encouraging them to excel without making them feel like their work is wrong.
“Often people see making art as something you have to be good at, or you have to have specific talent,” said Quiroga. “…I work with teenagers, and they take risks all the time. They take risks by doing negative things… but making art is intimidating (for them).”
Workshops by CAA artists allow participants to take positive risks in a supportive environment. The non-judgmental spirit of Class Acts Arts can be especially beneficial for students who are struggling academically or behaviorally.
Denise Rocco, general music teacher at Cedar Lane School, a self-contained program for students with severe disabilities, sang the praises of CAA.
“We’ve been using Class Acts Arts exclusively for a few years,” she said. “They adapt what they are doing to meet the needs of our students.”
Because some students’ disabilities preclude them from attending live performances in public venues, CAA visits to Cedar Lane afford the children opportunities they might not otherwise have.
Music in particular, Rocco said, can help break down barriers and have positive physical and mental effects on her students.
“Most people enjoy music and these kids are no different. There are kids whose muscles are always tight, and when the music is on, they can relax. It can be very calming if they’re agitated or anxious. It’s something they can be successful at. They can shake a tambourine and control the sound they’re making.”
ART IS IN EVERYTHING WE DO
Modrick believes art is in everything.
“(You can) find creativity and artistic engagement in everything you do,” he said.
The nonprofit’s programs teach audiences how art is a part of other subjects including, but not limited to aviation. environmental science and social studies.
Flutist Dr. Andrei Pidkivka and violinist/singer Dr. Solomia Gorskhivska are Ukranian performers in the music ensemble Gerdan (sometimes partnering as Duet Gerdan). Their performances introduce audiences to various aspects of Ukrainian culture.
“We take them on a tour to Ukraine with the different musical styles,” Pidkivka said. “We tell the stories.”
A folk music demonstration, for example, might include stories of shepherds. They wear cultural costumes, rich in colors and patterns.
“We tell the kids who made the costumes, what regions and villages they came from.”
After seeing Gerdan perform, teachers and students have said they have a better understanding of Ukrainian culture.
“Many kids don’t even know where Ukraine is,” Pidkivka said. “We say ‘name a country in Eastern Europe,’ and they say Ireland or Italy.”
On return visits, however, students have told him that the performance inspired them to take note of news from Eastern Europe, or that they chose to study Ukraine for international projects.
“(Music),” he said, “is a perfect bridge for people to connect.”
Recently, CAA partnered with Passion for Learning, Inc., Big Learning, and Sligo Middle School in S’team Sligo, a leadership development project to engage students through STEAM activities. The students created a curriculum that reflected what they were learning in their class lessons. They wrote a song about Sligo Creek , and worked with the artists to create a mural.
Art is more than just doing something because it’s fun,” said Modrick, “It’s enthusiasm. It’s a source of joy. It’s a way of life.”
This is a key lesson of Class Acts Arts’ programs. Some of Carien Quiroga’s PYA students have told her that they would have taken a different path if they had been introduced to art earlier.
She recalls one student in particular, a young man who took part in several workshops.
“He was almost expressing a wish to me. I think he realized how good he was at it and that art can be this powerful way of expression. I guess he felt successful. It was a very moving and touching moment for me to hear that.”
About the Author: Rolena M. King is a writer and marketing, communications, and branding professional based on the East Coast. She enjoys the arts, and her favorite form of art is dancing.