Kennedy Center / Met Life / Visa / Van Wezel – “Arts Connect All”

The Kennedy Center, a long time Van Wezel collaborator and The MetLife Foundation has awarded a “Very Special Arts” (VSA) grant to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.  This VSA MetLife grant, titled “Building Bridges in the School and Community is focused on integrating learning opportunities for students living with disabilities alongside students who are not disabled to work together on a visual arts installation, while exploring Math, Science, and Theatre.

The program administered by the Van Wezel Education & Community Engagement Department brought together local artist Brenda Smoak, a national VSA Teaching Artist Fellow, artisans Dave and Lisa Burns and teaching artist Krista McCampbell with students and teachers from the Oak Park and Lakeview Elementary Schools.

The team’s project involved two waterfalls, with a mosaic embellishment and a restored bridge.  Dave and Lisa Burns, who are professional waterfall and pond artists, supervised the building of two waterfalls which were embellished by a mosaic river of lily pads and flowers created by Krista McCampbell, a mosaic artist.  The waterfalls were built around an old bridge which was restored and repainted.  The old bridge is located in an area between the two campuses, and served as the focal point for the project. Students of the two schools, who would normally not have the opportunity to interact, collaborated on the in-depth arts residency. “Building Bridges” allowed students and teachers to cross the literal and symbolic bridges that separated their schools.

Along with Smoak’s team, teachers from both schools actively connected the project to what students were studying in the classroom. At Lakeview, students learned the principals of water flow and evaporation, pumps  and floats before the students  began  construction of the waterfalls.  Working with their horticulture teacher, Oak Park students planted a garden and arranged benches to form a restful retreat. Using math skills, all students platted, measured leveled and secured stone. Within two days they had built a beautiful mosaic enhanced waterfall.  “This truly is arts integration at its best.  It is wonderful when schools understand the concept and invite us to create magnificent art with their students” said Smoak. The bridge, which was dedicated with a Ribbon Cutting ceremony on December 6, 2012, has been named affectionately  “The Friendship Bridge.” As a result of this project, the students take pride in identifying with that which  they and their fellow students personally contributed to the project.

This artistic collaboration became possible when The VanWezel became one of 10 organizations sharing an award $150,000 in Arts and Education grants established by VSA and the MetLife, Foundation. The grant also allowed the students of both schools to attend the Van Wezels Schooltime Performances of “Super Scientific Circus” and “Math Rocks,” which integrated Next Generation Sunshine State Standards inot the classroom through the Arts.

VSA, the  international organization of arts and disability, was founded more than 35 years ago by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith as an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Its goal is to  provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and to increase access to the arts for all.  Each year 7 million people of all ages participate in VSA programs which cover all artistic genres.

 The MetLife Foundation was established by Metlife, Inc.to carry on its long-standing tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement throughout the country. Recognizing  the vital role the arts play in building communities and educating young people, the Foundation contributes to the arts and culture by focusing on increasing opportunities for young people through inclusive programming which makes arts more acessible for all.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, America’s national center for the performing arts is committed to developing educational resources and programs to share with arts organizations and school  across the country.  The Van Wezel is currently in its 16th year of partnership with the Sarasota County School Board through the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Program.

The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has long been dedicated to the artistic education of young people.  Realizing the value of arts education it has, through its Education & Community Engagement Department’s programming encourages the use of artistic expression, science, mathematics and thinking “outside the box ” in an effort to prepare the next generation for its pursuit of excellence.