By Madelynn Coldiron
“The Arts Center was an investment by the board of education,” but at this juncture, it’s almost self-supporting, center Executive Director Alvin MacWilliams said. About 70 percent of its funding is from tuition for Arts Academy classes.
“It’s a huge part of how the community essentially invests in the arts programming that we have,” he said.
PHOTO: Elise Kotheimer leads the Chamber Ensemble through a piece at the Oldham County Schools Arts Center.
Other funding sources include donations, including support from the district’s education foundation, and grants. The Oldham County school district this year is allocating $231,000 to the center, which will pay utilities and the salaries of two staffers, said district Chief Academic Officer Anita Davis.
Though Arts Academy classes charge tuition, MacWilliams said the center offsets the cost to students by awarding mostly need-based and some merit-based scholarships annually. About 450 students currently receive some kind of tuition assistance, he said, and scholarships last year totaled about $50,000. Students in the gifted and talented program also can take classes for free.
“It is a very strong scholarship program that’s attached to it so we really make it accessible to all children that really want to be involved,” MacWilliams said.
Teachers for the various classes are drawn from the community and another 16 are from the district’s own teaching staff.
“That’s been a wonderful opportunity for a lot of our district employees,” MacWilliams said. “They’ve really been able to take advantage and offer unique opportunities for our students on the community level. And that’s additional income for them, too.”
Oldham board member: More than an arts program
Six-year-old Jada Beckner loves the dance and intro to theater classes she takes at the Oldham County Schools Arts Center, and she’d like to take even more classes.
What she doesn’t realize, said her mother, Oldham County school board member Jennifer Beckner, is what she’s learning – much of it advanced for a first-grader –while following her passion for the arts. Beckner said she’s amazed at what Jada is picking up in the production of Schoolhouse Rock that she is currently involved in.
“It’s adding to her vocabulary, it’s adding to her reading,” Beckner said. “Every skill she’s working on in class, it’s really adding to it.”
She said she doesn’t consider the Arts Center’s programs to be separate from the district’s academics. “It takes everything they’re learning in the curriculum – the math, the reading, the writing, the art – and it just enhances it, it adds to it. And it makes it fun; they learn so much without even realizing that they’re learning,” Beckner said.
There are lots of other advantages for the district in having the center, she added. Teachers take their classes to the center to see productions, which some students otherwise might not be able to see. Students have told school board members that the classes helped them connect with their peers and spurred their enjoyment of school, she added.
“It’s exciting to see those kids really flourish,” Beckner said.
Because the center serves all students, including those who are home- and private-schooled, “It’s a great way to incorporate the entire community, even if they don’t attend our public elementary, middle and high schools. They still are connected to the school and children their age,” Beckner said.
While the board provides some funding to the Arts Center, she said, “I wish we could get more funding to it. It’s one of those programs that if we could fund it more, to do even more, but what they do with the funding they have is amazing.”