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As published in The Community Foundation Spotlight in The Press Enterprise on June 3, 2017

In May, the Idyllwild School PTA smARTS Project received the 2017 Community Partnership Award from the Arts Schools Network, the nation’s largest professional membership organization of specialized arts schools.

Idyllwild School PTA smARTS Project First graders learning how to work with clay with Idyllwildís local ceramist, Desert Chavez.The award is presented to a school or business that embraces the community by utilizing the arts and education as a vehicle for fostering artistic and educational understanding and community enhancement.

The smARTS project, which partners with the Idyllwild Arts Academy, offers approximately 300 classes to Idyllwild school children every year. The classes engage students from K-8 in visual arts, sculpture, theatre, movement, creative writing, poetry, song writing, and music. Many of the teachers for the program are also involved in Idyllwild Arts.

“Some of the artists we get to teach are pretty incredible,” said Christine Hunt, Idyllwild Arts Academy Coordinator and Field Trip Coordinator. “I think it’s remarkable and I’m so grateful for that.”

Idyllwild School PTA smARTS Project Idyllwildís Got Talent mural made by 5th graders, led by local artist Rob Padilla.In 2001, when California cut funds for art instruction in public school, Idyllwild parents created programming to fill the gap. Functioning under the auspices of the PTA, the programming is designed to meet the Grade Level VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts). Sixteen years later, the Idyllwild smARTS program is renowned for going above and beyond in providing arts introduction and exploration to local students. 

 “We have had a substantial increase in programming, in part because of increased enrollment and also because we have continued to grow our program in the last several years,” said Christine Hunt, Idyllwild Arts Academy Coordinator and Field Trip Coordinator.

The smARTS program also offers a variety of field trips most children would not have an opportunity to experience otherwise. Some of these are at the Idyllwild Arts Academy where children have the opportunity to view art exhibits and special performances.

Idyllwild School PTA smARTS Project Middle School students making sprayed hummingbird wings, led by local artists Neil Jenkins and Donna Elliot.“We are giving kids experience in not just visual arts, but all the arts,” said Hunt. “One of the field trips is to the McCallum Theater. It’s not a common thing for Idyllwild kids to get exposure to professional theater.”

The smARTS program is entirely run by volunteers who are mostly parents. However, the program is now embracing volunteers who do not have children, but have a passion for arts education in the hopes they will stay involved longer. Hunt, who has one child who is now at Idyllwild Arts Academy and another who is a 7th grader, says next year will likely be her last volunteering.  

“The smARTS committee is all volunteers and there are about 12 of us,” said Hunt. “When their kids move on so do they. So, we are always in need of new blood. The same is true of the artists as well. So, it is a constant recruitment.”

Idyllwild School PTA smARTS Project Fifth graders making a collaboration sculpture at an Idyllwild Arts Academy workshop.The program also has to procure its own funding. Recently, smARTS received a grant from the Idyllwild Youth Grantmakers Fund at The Community Foundation to support its work. However, there is always a need for assistance.

“Every time we add 10 more classes that means more arts materials and the committee needs to find more teachers,” said Hunt. “The growth requires more time and energy from the smARTS committee and money for materials.”

Hunt feels that the impact on the local children is immense. Hunt stated that while attendance is at its lowest on Fridays at the rest of the schools in the district, Idyllwild schools have high attendance rate. This is when the classes are offered and the children don’t want to miss it. Many of these children thrive and even go on to study arts in high school and college.

“There are always kids in school who are not as academically adept as others, but this is a place where they might shine,” said Hunt. “It gives them an avenue to experience success.”

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