Arts for Learning students


Editor’s Note: Arts for Learning Miami (A4L) and Miami Music Project (MMP) are 2018 grant recipients of The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation. A4L will use their grant to offer paid arts internships for more than 100 students while MMP will expand its signature children’s orchestra program into a new site. We spoke with A4L’s Sheila Womble and MMP’s Anna Klimala-Pietraszko to better-understand how they’re scaling effective arts education programs, in and out of school, to ensure all youth have access to the arts. This year, The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundationhas launched the Pérez CreARTE Grants Program, investing more than $1 million in Miami-Dade organizations across three focus areas: artist fellowships and residencies, spaces for creation and arts education and access.

In March, 14 local high school students got the chance to showcase their artwork at the Coral Gables Museum. The “By Teenagers for Teenagers” exhibit and panel talk featured drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations by Arts4Learning ArtWorks interns, all students at Coral Gables, Miami Palmetto and South Miami Senior High Schools. Their work, as the young artists put it, captured “stories from our perspectives, in the way we see the world.”

“Arts are important for human development,” says Sheila Womble, A4L executive director. “They develop critical thinking skills, understanding, tolerance and can help children recognize what it means to live in a multicultural society.” It’s one reason why A4L works with local schools and other community-based programs to advance teaching and learning of all art types, including music, film, design, animation and architecture. Over the past 15 years, the nonprofit has integrated arts instruction throughout schools, pre-K to high school, reaching nearly 117,000 students.

Through the internship program, “we hire high school students to commission, produce and present work,” Womble explains. “While there are a number of internship programs out there, not many are arts-based, which is where A4L steps in.” Under the guidance of master artists, students gain access to studio time and mentorship in career skills, financial literacy and college advising. Interns also design, lead and produce community outreach projects. The internship ends with a public performance and exhibition, such as the spring “By Teenagers for Teenagers” show at Coral Gables Museum. With support from a 2018 grant from The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, A4L will expand its internship program and offer paid summer opportunities for high school students in the visual or performing arts of their choice.

“Over the past decade, Miami has become known for its cultural community, and the arts play a huge role in that. So we have to start young and ensure we’re building a community that continues to recognize the value of art,” Sheila notes. “The foundation’s grant will help us inspire the next generation of Miami artists.”

A4L rests in good company. The Miami Music Project also works to increase arts access – in this case, music. The nonprofit builds orchestras throughout Miami-Dade County, with the end goal of “using music as a tool to bring social transformation,” according to Anna Klimala-Pietraszko, executive director of the nonprofit, which is rooted in the “El Sistema” philosophy of using music for social change. “Studies show that music education accelerates brain development, increases academic success and fosters lifelong benefits for those who have access.”

Now in its 10th year, the Miami Music Project has developed five orchestras throughout the county, in partnership with public schools in Little Havana, Little Haiti, Liberty City, Miami Gardens and Miami Springs. To mark the milestone, musicians performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center in January.

And in May, students performed their “Fantastic Season Finale” at the FIU Wertheim Performing Arts Center. With a 2018 grant from The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, the nonprofit will expand to 10 orchestras over the next few years. Whether students go on to continue in music or not, Anna believes music stands as an integral part of building a stronger, more connected city.

“In Miami, we’re divided in different communities, but in an orchestra, we put all these kids together,” she points out. “Every student has their role and responsibilities in the orchestra. If one orchestra member doesn’t show up, it is to the detriment of the whole group. In this way, the orchestra resembles Miami, and learning how to support and give back to one another – when you’re learning these skills young, there’s no way not to give back to your community in the future.”

The deadline to apply for the Pérez CreARTE Grants Program has passed. Click here to learn more about the program.

Roshan Bransden is a freelance journalist writing about the local arts community.

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All photos courtesy of Arts 4 Learning and Miami Music Project.

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