By AUBRIE GEORGE
A $10,000 grant from the Horizon Foundation will assist Moorestown’s Perkins Center for the Arts in continuing an art education program that gives students hands-on experience.
The Perkins Center’s ARTS (Arts Reaching the Students) in-school residency program allows local schools to work with actual, working artists in order to carry out custom designed projects in the four areas that school curriculum addresses — visual arts, music, theater, and dance.
The program places the artists in local schools for residencies ranging from 6 to 20 days.
While there, the artists work with students, staff, and community volunteers to construct a project through a process that aims to build visual skills, teach problem-solving strategies, and encourage communication among students.
Karen Chigounis, director of Arts Education Programs and Associate Curator at The Perkins Center for the Arts, said the center has a group of 30 to 50 professional artists in specialized fields, which they can draw on to do a residency for any participating school.
“All of the artists we work with fall into different categories — some are actors, some are dancers, some work in African traditions, others are jazz and contemporary dancers. They fall into categories within categories,” Chigounis said. “You try to get a sense of the school and its culture and define an artist that would really work well with the school administrators and teachers.”
Before a project begins, the center sets up planning meetings with a participating school to define an appropriate medium and project.
“This is a customized residency, we don’t go in with a book and say you can pick from this, this, this and this and it’s going to cost $1,000,” Chigounis said. “We talk to each school about the subject matter along with which medium they want to work with.”
Chigounis said the grant from the Horizon Foundation goes into funds to support the program. The Perkins Center asks schools to contribute to approximately one third of the cost for a residency, and the center raises the other two-thirds of the cost.
She said the center has a partnership with the state council on the arts, specifically, to carry out the program in addition to other foundations.
Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at Moorestown’s Upper Elementary School created a mosaic.
Chigounis said the program offers an obvious benefit for students getting first-hand experience working with professional artists, but there are also underlying lessons.
“They get to experience the process, which is the most important part. There is teamwork involved and, once you get going, you’re working to develop an idea. When you’re creating a musical composition, or a sculpture, or what have you — you have to stand back and evaluate and create what’s going on.” Chigounis said. “It’s really strategizing and evolving critical thinking and evaluation. That’s an amazing skill that the arts offer that transfers into every other aspect in (students’) academic and social lives.”
In addition, she said there is also a benefit for staff, administrators and the community-at-large.
“The artists frequently work with community volunteers to support the work end of the project,” Chigounis said.
“Teachers tend to be rejuvenated and inspired and sometimes learn new methods or ways of relating to the kids that the artists have.”
The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey supports charitable organizations that promote health and the arts throughout the state. The Perkins Center for the Arts was one of 14 organizations to receive $225,000 in grants from the foundation at the end of 2010.