ArtsSmarts helps local kids

By Kelly Leydier

Students at Elgin Street Public School and Lisgar Collegiate are about to find out that art can make them smart.

Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Ottawa-Carleton, students will be working with musical and creative movement specialists, Artists at Hand, to produce a series of vignettes to tell Ottawa’s history.

“(The grant’s) purpose is to assist local schools and arts organizations to promote enhanced learning outcomes through the arts,” says Anne Grace, co-ordinator of ArtsSmarts grants at the community foundation.

Artists at Hand wrote the script and will design the sets, says Tara Sheridan, a teacher at Elgin Street. The group will be going into her school once a week to teach acting to the Grade 1 to 6 students who will perform the show.

Lisgar students will be responsible for the costumes, makeup and music.

Sheridan says the show is still in the planning stages, but the schools hope to have it ready in time for Education Week, the first week in May.

While Grace says the grant “isn’t at all trying to replace funding in the schools,” increasing demands on teachers and less funding are affecting activities outside the basic curriculum.

“It’s difficult to do stuff that’s extracurricular because there’s no late bus. With government cuts, few teachers have hour-long lunches. A lot of it has to be done in school,” says Sheridan.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation in Montreal is the benefactor of the ArtsSmarts program. Ottawa is one of seven partners in the program who each receive $75,000 to distribute as they see fit.

To be considered for the grant, a project must involve practising artists and a broad range of students. It must also support the school curriculum and encourage students to participate in the arts, says Grace. In its first year, of the 100 proposals received, 22 projects in Ottawa were given funding through the program.

Cambridge Street School also received funding for a planned community performance in celebration of its centennial year.

“Our wish in initiating the ArtsSmarts program is to build long-term local partnerships that link young people, artists or art organizations, schools and the broader community,” says Stephanie Miller at the McConnell Foundation.

Miller says the goal is also “to enhance appreciation of the importance of culture and the arts, thereby encouraging long-term support for Canadian artists and art organizations.”