Community arts school develops students old and young

Photo by Rachel Anderson

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The Butler Community Arts School opened its doors in 2002 and has provided Butler University and its art majors with a unique outreach program to enhance their education.

After sticking with their music and dance curriculum, the program has now added a theater element as well.

“The best part about the BCAS is the fact that it is about both the children and bringing the arts to them and about the college students and what it means for their development, as well,” Karen Thickstun, director of the BCAS, said.

The BCAS takes place mostly off campus. Students travel to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Kaleidoscope Youth Center and schools such as Christel House Academy and Shortridge Magnet High School.

In addition, students come to Butler for private lessons and different summer camps, including piano, strings, percussion and two different camps for adults. The school has had a music program since it opened its doors (Thickstun was a music professor at Butler). The dance program began five years ago and the theater program began at the end of last school year. Thickstun said she assumes that the art + design program will have its own classes as well in the next few years.

Thickstun, a former Butler music professor, operates the entire school. Money for the school comes from sponsors such as the The Indianapolis Foundation, Indiana Arts Commission, the Summer Youth Program Fund, the Lilly Endowment and the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, which also funds the Visiting International Theatre Artist.

Thickstun, although maintaining a one-person department, is always looking into expansion. She has been working to increase dance programs, although it has been difficult due to the dancers’ busy schedules and the fact that they did not want to compete with the Jordan Academy of Dance that closed in May.

The actual teaching fellows mostly come from Butler, but there are also alumni who come back to teach as well. Skilled students are recommended by their professors, and they then interview with Thickstun.

“I hire them based on their desire to work with children and their comfort level for working with children,” Thickstun said. “Sometimes those who may not be the most talented may end up being the best with the children.”

Teaching fellows are then recommended to specific classes that can help them with their teaching process.

Dance has basic outreach members, but they also have a program called the National Dance Institute (NDI). It was originally formed in New York to help children in Harlem. Now any student can fly to New York to be trained.

Thickstun said that Butler has sent some students to the program, but the BCAS budget usually only allows one to be sent a year.

“The big piece is Butler students and the experience they’re getting,” Thickstun said. “Our funders have realized the program is more far-reaching than most traditional outreach programs.”

Want to know more about the Butler Community Arts School? See next week’s edition for part two and more to come.

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