Learn how three local art programs inspire children to create with confidence.
By Chelsea Pribble, Photos courtesy of Eastside Music School, Lupe Arte, Leap of Joy
More than finger painting or twirling in a tutu, the arts keep young learners engaged and critically impact their development. Indeed, studies show ongoing education in the arts rewires the brain, improving motor control, attention, motivation, and intellectual and social development. As Austin expands, so does its pool of artists in search of jobs, including teaching opportunities, which are often sparse. In lieu of those jobs, many local artists seek out opportunities to bring music, dance and visual arts to students who are denied access or are in need of mentorship. With intentions to employ artists and reform education, three exemplary arts programs are painting Austin-area schools and the community with vibrancy.
With a longstanding dedication to Austin schools, LUPE Arte is dubbed an incubator for the arts. The nonprofit offers after-school programs and workshops for all ages in multiple disciplines, including guitar, culinary arts, visual art and film.
As a Latina visual artist who grew up in a home that viewed art as a hobby, Marylou Castillo, co-founder of LUPE Arte, expresses the importance of educating parents and children about the value of art.
“Our main priority is to start children out as early as possible, to foster an appreciation for the arts, help them get into the arts and get trained early,” Castillo says. “We don’t want to just stop there. We also educate parents so that children have the support they need at home.”
Since its inception in 1999, the nonprofit has employed women and Latina artists and provided a platform for Latino arts and culture.
“During that time, there was no support group or organization to help women like myself and, out of that need, LUPE Arte was born,” Castillo recalls. “In order for us to understand each other, we have to tell our story and people have to actually experience and see it. That’s why I spend a lot of my time supporting Latino artists.”
With a recent expansion to San Antonio and upcoming exhibitions at the Mexican American Cultural Center, LUPE Arte strives to deepen its impact locally and beyond.
“We’ve seen the arts grow in Austin,” Castillo says, “and I think that we are a part of that movement.”
Pick an instrument, any instrument, and you can most likely learn it at Eastside Music School. Power couple Laurel Crawford and Alex Ballentine run a comprehensive music program neighboring The North Door performance venue.
“It’s really neat to think about the space. In the ’70s, it was built out similar to what it is now and used for sound production to make movies,” Crawford says.
With a state-of-the-art sound booth, the school offers lessons in music production and options to record for fun or professionally. From individualized lessons to monthly open-mic nights and biannual recitals to group lessons that lead to rock and jazz band performances, the school uniquely supports and encourages students of all levels, as well as professionals, to apply what they’re learning practically. By employing musicians, the school, Crawford emphasizes, also impacts the local music scene and its artists.
“I’d like to think we support what people love about Austin and why people want to move and live here, both by helping people to learn music and offering musicians a way to work as musicians while they’re pursuing their careers and art,” Crawford says. “We’re meant to be a city that values creativity and music, so it’s great to be a part of that.”
The laughter and joy sparked by leaping into the air and twirling is universal in children from all backgrounds. Judy Richardson, director of Leap of Joy, strives to spread happiness and confidence to at-risk children in impoverished communities and schools through dance. After wondering what could have been were her passion for dance not stunted, Richardson sought to infuse her life with a deeper purpose.
“I thought, ‘Well, kids not of the dancer physique and kids whose parents have no resources deserve an opportunity to learn dance,’ ” Richardson says. “Dance provides a safe environment for kids; they feel free to express themselves and it gives them an outlet.”
Primarily working in Title 1 preschools and elementary schools throughout Austin, the nonprofit provides after-school programs in hip-hop, jazz, musical theater, ballet, creative dance, improvisation and theater improvisation. Each year, the group brings kids from different schools together to perform in its Care to Dance program for their families and the community. More than teaching dance, Richardson expresses the important relationships teachers develop with their students.
“We get such great teachers and they care. They get to know their kids. They inspire them and set an example,” Richardson says. “We encourage our students to take the confidence and tools we give them and apply it to other areas of their lives.”
Indeed, Richardson notes that she sees how early exposure to dance programs positively impacts kids as they grow.
“One of the girls I mentor invited me to come see her dance at school,” Richardson recalls. “I also saw that three of our old students were still in the dance program. It is really great to see that the seed was planted and they were continuing.”