Potomac Arts Academy Programs Strengthen Bonds with Community

Posted: April 25, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: April 22, 2011 at 11:50 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Mason’s Potomac Arts Academy is expanding several outreach initiatives that strengthen its relationship with the surrounding community. Offered through the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA), the academy offers year-round arts instruction in a variety of disciplines to community members of all ages.

“The development of these programs is a conscious effort by the Potomac Arts Academy to involve and support as many Mason students as possible by providing vital hands-on experiences that supplement their course work. This contributes to the overall success of CVPA, as well,” says Libby Curtis, director of the Potomac Arts Academy.

“In addition, we are able to offer high-caliber arts instruction to a part of the population that otherwise wouldn’t be served.”

Enriching the Arts Experience

Potomac Arts Academy photo

The Potomac Arts Academy’s relationship with Hunters Woods Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences and the Southgate Community Center in Reston, Va., is stronger than ever.

The organizations created a program called Hunters Woods Saturday School for the Arts. During the spring semester, underserved students in grades four through six who show artistic promise and interest receive supplemental arts education in music, visual arts, theater and dance.

This semester, CVPA graduate and undergraduate students volunteered to teach the classes to nearly 40 students at the Southgate Community Center. With guidance from CVPA faculty, Mason students develop their own lesson plans and curriculum for each class session.

“For the past few years, our relationship with Hunters Woods has grown tremendously,” says John Kilkenny, assistant director of Potomac Arts Academy and faculty member in the School of Music. “In fact, this growth has led to the implementation of a course curriculum development component into the curriculum of each discipline in CVPA.”

Curtis and Kilkenny are exploring ways to expand the program to other schools in the area and create more opportunities for participating middle school students to attend events at Mason.

Scholarly Musicians

Photo by Evan Cantwell

Instruments in the Attic is another Potomac Arts Academy program that continues to reinforce ties with the community.

Begun in 2008, the initiative has already created an inventory of more than 200 donated instruments that are used by Mason’s music education students to complete their degrees. In addition, the program’s scope even stretches to Haiti, where instruments were donated after the 2010 earthquake.

Closer to home, however, two new community initiatives are under way.

This year, music education major Abby Byrom and graduate student Stephanie Longoria were chosen for the Teaching Scholars program, which awards a $3,000 scholarship per academic year.

Throughout the fall and spring semesters, Byrom and Longoria have visited Woodburn School for the Fine and Communicative Arts in Falls Church, Va., once a week.

Working closely with School of Music faculty, Byrom and Longoria developed lesson plans that provided nearly 40 fifth-grade students with instrumental instruction, as well as other musical study such as improvisation, listening and composition. Woodburn students had the loan of instruments such as flutes, clarinets and violins through Instruments in the Attic.

Recording their experiences every step of the way, Byrom and Longoria also prepared a 45-minute chamber program to present to Woodburn students during visits to Mason once a semester.

“The Teaching Scholars program reinforced my choice of teaching as a career,” says Byrom.

She adds: “At first it was a challenge adjusting to each student’s musical ability and developing curriculum that included concepts to which students aren’t typically exposed during music class, such as the use of various websites and YouTube clips. But overall, the program gave me a great idea of what teaching in your own classroom in the real world will be like.”

The first Teaching Scholars program will close on May 5, when students will perform in the Woodburn Band Spring Concert and demonstrate some of the techniques they learned throughout the program.

Musical Ensembles in the Community

Potomac Arts Academy photo

Similarly, the new Musical Ambassadors program provides opportunities for student ensembles to work closely with members of the community through visits to local middle and high schools, retirement communities and other organizations.

The program was made possible through a generous donation from the McCarthy Family Foundation, which is run by Kevin McCarthy, who is the staff and operations director at Mason’s School of Music.

To become a musical ambassador, students must be a member of a musical ensemble and provide up to eight musical performances for community organizations in the area.

Prospective ambassadors must submit a sample program, including literature, length of each piece to be performed and composer information. Ensembles range from brass and string quartets to jazz and vocal groups. Each ambassador receives a stipend based on the distance traveled to perform and duration of the performance.

According to Kilkenny, each 45-minute visit includes more than just a student performance. Students are expected to interact with their audiences by talking about their instruments and pieces and providing demonstrations. Interaction can even include a jam session or group lesson for the entire audience.

This year, musical ambassadors have already visited Green Acres School in Fairfax, Va.; Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Va.; and Heatherwood Retirement Community in Burke, Va. Kilkenny and Curtis hope to expand the program to include visits to military veteran organizations.

“The continued support of these programs is vital to both Mason students and the college in developing a model for effective community arts outreach,” says Curtis. “We must continue teaching our students the benefit of sharing art with the community at large, who then learn to value and support the arts in society.”

For more information about these programs and how to support them, visit the Potomac Arts Academy website or contact Curtis at ecurtis@gmu.edu.





Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu