Beck brings ArtsBridge program from California to Lawrence

Amy Siebels

Jill Beck saw a problem. In schools across the country, the arts were being systematically cut from the curriculum. Meanwhile, college students studying the arts and humanities lacked scholarship support. In 1996, Beck created ArtsBridge; in 2005, she is bringing it to Lawrence.

ArtsBridge is a program where college students with an interest in the arts are matched with a classroom or group in the community.

There, they teach a hands-on course in their area of expertise, usually lasting one term and culminating in an art project for the community to enjoy. The college students receive an award of about $1,500.

“As a fine liberal arts college with strengths in the arts, Lawrence should excel at ArtsBridge,” said Beck. “It’s a program in which students explore connections between the arts and other subjects in the curriculum.”

All art forms are welcome, including visual arts, digital art, dance, drama, music, art history, world arts and cultures, photography and video. Past projects have included music in relation to history and culture, the art of designing and creating totem poles, learning language through dance, and exploring scenes of American history through drama.

Sometimes the program has a general theme; Beck hopes to do “Picturing Peace” at Lawrence next year.

Lawrence has received funding to begin an ArtsBridge program as soon as January. Beck sees it as an opportunity to get college students off campus, to vitalize communities and learn in new ways.

“I really believe that colleges can do more to be active in their communities, utilizing their expertise to address some of the challenges in our society – one person, one step at a time,” she said.

Jasmine Yep, one of Beck’s former student, moved from California this week to direct ArtsBridge at Lawrence for the next two years. She will have an office in Sampson House, and from there she will coordinate most aspects of the program, from the application process to ensuring that the college students’ promises to the community are fulfilled. Meanwhile, Beck has shifted the national ArtsBridge website so that she can manage it from Lawrence.

Beck is optimistic that the program will have a positive effect on Lawrence as well as the community. “Research has shown that college students in ArtsBridge find the experience to be transforming,” she said. “Sometimes we expect that the principal beneficiaries of partnerships will be the people in the community to whom we reach out. However, in ArtsBridge, college students also report extensive personal, cognitive and artistic growth as a result of their work in the program.”

Beck started ArtsBridge at the University of California-Davis, and within two years then-governor Pete Wilson recommended that the program be expanded statewide. In 2001 the U.S. Department of Education expanded the program to six states; today it serves nine.

Besides increasing awareness of the arts in K-12 schools, Beck sees two additional benefits: to get more scholarships for students who have interests in the arts, and to put more art out in the community for people to enjoy.

Beck and Yep will host a lunch at Lawrence on Nov. 12 to introduce the program to interested faculty. Students are welcome to attend.

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