Arts Cater to Students of All Kinds

OrchKids, a program of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has more than 900 Baltimore City students. (Provided)

OrchKids, a program of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has more than 900 Baltimore City students.

With its affordable cost of living and convenient East Coast location, Baltimore has become home to a booming arts community. From music to theater to dance to visual art, Baltimore has the outlets for it.

For those searching for their inner artist, looking to hone their skills or in need of a different kind of creative outlet, students can try their hands in a variety of mediums at several extracurricular art programs in the city. Youth in the juvenile justice system can “bling out” the exterior of an art museum, inner-city youth can create media about their lives, and budding young musicians and art students have several programs benefiting them.

“It’s helpful to have those after-school programs work with what’s happening in the school and help those kids who need extra support or the ones who are really talented,” said Elizabeth Stuart, president of the Maryland Art Education Association. “The after-school programs, the in-school programs, all of it goes hand-in-hand to help a child be successful.”

At the Maryland Institute College of Art, students of all artistic abilities and ages are offered classes in drawing, painting, computer design,
photography and more. There’s no competition to get into the programs, which offer scholarships.

“The thing that’s really significant about this is that it’s truly art education,” said David Gracyalny, MICA’s dean of the school for professional and continuing studies. “They’re really being intellectually challenged. They really have to think it through. If they want to tell a story, they have to think about why they want to tell a story.”

MICA offers young people’s studios for grades 1 to 8, portfolio preparation for those preparing to apply to art school and a summer pre-college program that gives students the opportunity to work with MICA faculty and other professional artists in a campus environment.

Similar to the art institution offering instruction, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offers OrchKids. Director Dan Trahey calls OrchKids a social, music and preventative medicine program that focuses on building young musicians.

“Our idea is that we want to put a clarinet or violin in a child’s hand before they would put a gun in their hands,” said Trahey, a co-founder of the program. “We believe in democratic access to music. My belief is that instrumental music, and especially classical music, has become a luxury item of the rich, and our idea is we want to create democratic access to that music, to the performance of it, the study of it and the exposure to it.”

The program has about 900 students from five Baltimore City schools. Participants can start as early as ages 2 or 3 with ear training, identifying different instruments and listening to different types of music. In first grade they sing in choirs, play in percussion ensembles and sample playing the different instrument families. Specialization comes as students continue in the program, which started seven years ago.

The OrchKids ensembles have put on 65 performances to more than 175,000 audience members. The students attend school at higher-than-average rates in Baltimore and have elevated test scores and grades, Trahey said.

“To me, the most important thing is these kids are showing much higher levels of empathy, concern for others,” he said. “They are students you want to be around, not students you have to manage.”

Trahey even anticipates a new sub-genre coming out of their original music, a hip-hop gospel mashup.

“I think sometime very soon you’ll be able to identify the sound of the West Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,” he said.

Another program that has seen great success in uplifting Baltimore City students is New Lens, a social justice media organization that is run by its youth participants. The organization teaches videography to peers, produces videos for nonprofits and advocates through video work by focusing on social justice issues.

“There isn’t a young person that comes through our doors without some fire in their stomach about what can change in the world,” said executive director Rebecca Yenawine.

The core team, which ranges in age from 16 to 23, consist mostly of inner-city youth, Yenawine said. They make videos about a variety of issues, particularly those that affect young people of color.

“Because they are on the receiving end of policies that they don’t have a say in the creation of, they often have a unique perspective,” she said.

She’s found that those who work with New Lens graduate high school or get a GED and estimates that about 60 percent go to college. Many go into media-related fields, teaching and the nonprofit world.

At the American Visionary Art Museum in Federal Hill, Baltimore City youth have had the opportunity to decorate the exterior of one of the city’s most renowned buildings. The LeRoy Hoffberger Shining Youth/ Shining Walls program, which started in 2001, has had city students and at-risk youth create the mosaics and other art on the outside of the buildings. Starting in 2001 with the nearest school to the museum, then called Southern High School and now Digital Harbor High School, the program now works with kids in the city’s juvenile justice system.

The project has included the three-story shining mosaic that faces Key Highway, the café balcony surface and mirrored mosaic walls. The face of the building facing Federal Hill will have a green and purple Aurora Borealis in the coming months. The museum once made a list of the Top 10 most “blinged-out” buildings in the world, its co founder said.

“It’s a living social justice and physical beauty project,” said Rebecca Hoffberger, the museum’s co-founder. “They are the nicest, most appreciative kids. Almost 90 percent of the kids serving in the juvenile justice system in Baltimore City are serving for nonviolent crimes.”

Since students are learning masonry skills through the program, two construction companies have offered various trainings to participants in commercial and residential tiling.

While arts programs can help students beyond the classroom, Stuart believes art can help teach all kinds of subjects while in the classroom.

“I believe that it has the ability to engage students in a way that they normally wouldn’t feel comfortable,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we cater what they need and how they learn, and the arts have the ability to do that.”

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