Instant Arts Program provides financial resources to bring artists, performers into the classroom

Rooney School's Laura Williams and Emily Pool pose for a photo in front of third grade art at Rooney School on Friday, Sep. 13, 2019. Williams and Pool noticed a difference from Arts Quincy's Instant Arts program in their classrooms. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane

QUINCY -- Students in Emily Pool's third-grade classroom at Dr. Abby Fox Rooney Elementary School look forward to guest artist appearances.

"I wish people could see the faces of our students when they know that the artists are coming into the classroom that day or that week," said Pool, who has been teaching for 15 years in Quincy Public Schools.

It is a similar story in Laura Williams' third-grade classroom.

"We are not art majors, so the art that we do in the classroom is -- and we try to do more -- but it is often some kind of a craft activity," said Williams, who is beginning her 17th year in education. "I think that is very true for all teachers kindergarten through third grade. We all try to incorporate some kind of art, some kind of activity, but that depends heavily on how artistic the teacher is themselves and how important it is to the teacher to bring the arts into their classroom. Instant Art dollars allow us to get artists into the classroom to do art projects."

Both teachers participate in the Instant Arts program, which is organized each year by Arts Quincy. The program, which provides funding for art-related projects to teachers, reaches more than 7,500 students in 17 Adams County public and parochial schools each year.

Last year, students in Williams' classroom worked with local artists to make clay ornaments and to sculpt a human-like figure depicting an activity such as dancing, running or flexing muscles.

Other past projects include attending a performance at the Quincy Community Theatre, painting on a canvas, line sketches, presentations from a folk singer, and more.

"Last year, we had someone come in and she talked about Frank Lloyd Wright," Pool said. "Together, she and the students talked about his artwork, his architectural drawings and how his drawings are art. Then the students also got to create their own architectural drawings. So these Instant Art programs are very hands-on, which is a great thing for students because they get so much out of the experience."

Another memorable previous project for both teachers was watching their students re-create Claude Monet's impressionist painting of Water Lilies.

Teachers in Adams County apply for Instant Arts Classroom Funds each year. Teachers can request funds to partially cover the cost of transportation so that students can tour many of the Quincy area's museums and historic sites, include the All Wars Museum on the campus of the Illinois Veterans Home, the Governor John Wood Mansion, the Quincy History Museum on Maine Street, the Log Cabin Village on Quinsippi Island, the Prairie Mills Windmill and Museum in Golden, and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal.

The program also helps provide tours of the Quincy Community Theatre, the Quincy Public Library, the Villa Kathrine, and the home of Dr. Richard Eells, which was noted stop on the Underground Railroad during the years prior to the American Civil War.

Educators can also use Instant Art Dollars to take their classes to the Quincy Art Center, where students can engage in hands-on art experiences such as papier-mâché.

Instant Art dollars can also be used to bring in to their classroom a variety of visual artists, musicians, dancers, and theater troupes.

Arts Quincy Executive Director Laura Sievert said as the program continues to gain popularity amongst educators it has more than tripled in size during her tenure as art advocacy group's top official. Arts Quincy, previously known as the Quincy Society of Fine Arts, was founded in 1947 and bills itself as America's oldest community arts council.

The Instant Arts program got its start in the 1990s when the local arts council received a grant by the Illinois Art Council Association. In addition to receiving annual funding from the grant, the program is partially financed by contributions from the Tracy Family Foundation, the Quincy Service League, the Rotary Club of Quincy, and donations to Arts Quincy and by the dues paid by the organization's membership.

During the previous school year, the Instant Arts program funded more than 124 projects at the average cost of $2.75 per student. Of the students reached, more than 55% of them qualified for the federal government's free and reduced-price lunch program.

According to the Americans for the Arts, low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate collage as their peers with no arts education.

Williams said she knows that engagement in the arts has a tremendous benefit for all students.

"So many times when you have a student who is struggling academically, it is so very likely that it is in the arts that you see them open up and really excel," Williams said.

Pool said she hoped that by the two educators sharing their experiences with the Instant Arts program that more donors will contribute to Arts Quincy or become members of the organization.

"If every resident of Quincy just gave something," Pool said. "If they gave a couple of dollars, or gave the money they would normally spend in one week at Starbucks, if they found a way to carve something out of their budget, that would be amazing. By giving to this program and to Arts Quincy, they would be giving these students something they will remember for the rest of the school year and for the next few years."

Sievert said she appreciates the teachers sharing their perspective and advocating for the program.

"We work so hard to stretch those dollars as far as we can," Sievert said. "We work hard to make sure every donor's dollar is respected and appreciated. A small amount, even $5 per month, can go a long way in making sure that the arts remain a crucial part of the fabric of this community."

The overall goal of the Instant Arts program is to make sure every student in Adams County has access to art, music, theater and the humanities throughout their education. Currently, students in Quincy Public Schools do not receive formal visual art education until the fourth grade. The students do receive general music education.

"For me, it is all about access, and ensuring that people of all backgrounds have access to the arts," Sievert said.

Educators like Williams and Pool say they are grateful for the exposure their students are given to the arts through the Instant Arts program and through the workshops offered at the Quincy Art Center.

"A lot of kids don't have the opportunities to go to see a show or a museum so this is a great way to introduce them to the world that is out there," Williams said. "A lot of the things covered by this program are simply not in our budget."

Pool echoed her fellow teacher's sentiment.

"If that student's world is hard, if their world is full of challenges, of ugliness, of struggles, then this program has created a bright spot in their lives by giving them a door out of the ugly world they are living," Pool said. "I wish the donors to this program could see the faces of the children, because I don't think our words can capture their joy from experiencing something that they would never had before."

Sievert agreed. She credited the Instant Arts program as a contributing factor to the city's continued recognition as one's of "America's Most Artistic Towns." The city has earned this recognition from Expedia twice in recent years.

"If you want to continue to have a Quincy Symphony Orchestra or the Quincy Community Theatre or the Quincy Concert Band, then you have to keep making new musicians, new performers in order to keep those things viable," Sievert said. "The first and best way to do that is to give young people, especially children, opportunities to see a performance."

Pool said she could think of multiple long-term benefits of the Instant Arts program.

"Our world is a creative place," Pool said. "You see a lot of workplaces that are encouraging and expecting that creative, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication from their employees. When you bring in the arts, you are bringing in so many of those characteristics."

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