Public school art programs neglected

New Haven’s after-school arts programs need two things: money and attention, according to Shola Cole, the director of community programs at the Greater New Haven Arts Council.

Cole and administrators of six city arts programs said programs for youth are finally beginning to find firm footing after severe budget cuts late last year. Though arts programs have survived by paring down services and applying for additional grants, many organizations, such as Youth as Leaders and the Neighborhood Music School, are struggling with a more fundamental problem: lack of publicity.

Resources in New Haven arts programs are often overlooked because of insufficient advertising .
Resources in New Haven arts programs are often overlooked because of insufficient advertising .

“I think the real problem is that not enough people know,” said Shola Cole, the director of community programs at the Greater New Haven Arts Council. “Several organizations have lost a lot of funding, but New Haven still has many creative, untapped resources.”

After October’s state budget cuts, which reduced funding for grants and initiatives by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism by 40 percent, many educational programs at schools and galleries cut back on their services in order to accommodate financial limitations. This came as an added challenge to the organizations, many of which were already struggling to recruit students, Cole said.

Youth as Leaders offers after-school programs — photography, mural painting and theater classes — to the neighborhood’s middle school students during the academic year and over summer. The tuition for the summer classes is $50, and the yearlong after-school program also charges $50, Garcia said. But waivers are offered to students with financial difficulty, and if a family is unresponsive to bills, Garcia said, “we don’t push very hard.”

But residents haven’t been particularly receptive. The after-school program this year has only about 15 students, even though Youth as Leaders could accommodate 20 to 25.

“It is very challenging to involve young people in after school programs,” Garcia said. “It has been challenging to get kids engaged.”

Walking through downtown New Haven Wednesday, however, there was no shortage of interested students.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Adnisja Depoise, a Wilbur Cross High School senior, was waiting at a bus station a block away from the New Haven Green after having spent the 45 minutes since school ended milling about the nearby shops. But she said she would have much rather preferred spending the time getting vocal training — she just didn’t know where to go to get it.

“I really like singing, but I’ve never had a teacher,” Depoise said. “It might be nice to have a teacher.”

Two blocks away, the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquacultural Center senior David Pette said he was equally unaware of arts programs for New Haven’s youth. He added that he was also uninformed about where a financially challenged New Haven resident would go for arts training.

“I do a lot of film work, but I don’t know about any New Haven film classes,” Pette said.

Meanwhile, down the street at the New Haven Cooperative Arts and Humanities Interdistrict Magnet High School, where the city’s young artists can get a specialized education, three students leaving the building said New Haven is full of opportunities for youth, including for those with limited financial resources.

“There are a lot of programs and scholarships here,” Co-op sophomore Mary Johnson said. “Our teachers tell us about everything going on in the neighborhood.”

Next to her, junior Ruth Spence said it is much harder to hear about opportunities outside of Co-op.

Indeed, according to Larry Zukof, the executive director of the Neighborhood Music School, having faculty relations with local high schools is essential in outreach.

“Because we’re a private entity, we can’t advertise in schools,” Zukof said. “But some of our faculty also teach in New Haven public schools, so we have a connection there.”

The school, which offers music, dance, theater and preschool education, received the greatest amount of state funding among arts programs in Connecticut this year, netting $28,000. However, the sum is still relatively meager compared to the $92,000 sum from the year before.

Last November, 18 students from the Neighborhood Music School were invited to attend the White House Classroom Community Series, a program started by Michelle Obama to raise awareness on extracurricular arts programs in the United States.

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