Creativity Creates Community: The Butler Community Arts School

WRITTEN BY MALLORY DUNCAN, ARTS, ETC. ASSISTANT EDITOR

The Butler Community Arts School exudes a certain glow. It originates from a child radiant from the joy of learning and understanding.

But it also comes from a teacher’s glowing pride as his or her pupil grasps a concept for the first time.

Butler University students can not only hone their teaching skills at the school, but they can also reach out beyond the Butler community to children in need.

The school began serving the community in September 2002.

“The arts school has a dual mission,” said Karen Thickstun, the school’s director. “One aspect is to provide (a) diverse teaching experience to Butler students. The other is to provide access to an arts education, especially to those who can’t afford it.”

The school not only teaches classes in Butler’s Lilly Hall, but it also reaches out into the community to provide lessons to children. These children either wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise,  or they can’t get to campus for the lessons.

Right now, the school has about 1,700 children enrolled with about 100 Butler “teaching fellows.”

The program has 15 different community partners outside of Butler. Comprised of a mixture of public, private and charter schools along with United Way agencies, the school sends teaching fellows to reach different children in the Indianapolis community.

Grant King, a teacher at Tindley High School, said the skills learned in the weekly lessons are applied throughout the week. He said it motivates them to do well in school.

“(The Arts School) gives students an opportunity to take music lessons who wouldn’t have an opportunity otherwise,” King said. “They absolutely love it. I always know that when I come in the door on Friday, I will get questions making sure they still have lessons that afternoon.”

Aside from going to schools, the organization participates in various after-school programs, usually at the United Way agencies. One place Butler students-— and other employees of the school—teach is the Martin Luther King Community Center, off of 40th Street. The center houses the art school’s after-school dance program for underprivileged children.

“Our program keeps the kids engaged and off the streets,” said Christian Griggs-Drane, a senior dance major at Butler and  dance coordinator for the Community Arts School. “It’s a nice way to introduce the arts into a life that wouldn’t necessarily have it. We do hip-hop and things they would see on the MTV awards. It’s stuff they recognize.”

The dance program at the Arts School started an end-of-the-year showcase last year. The teachers took all the dance students and put them on stage in the Schrott Center.

“Seeing the kids’ faces when they saw the audience, and especially their parents, made it real to them,” Griggs-Drane said. “It broke down a lot of walls.”

The school offers all sorts of music, dance and even theatre lessons. Its students range in age from 5-year-olds to adults.

“I would hope that (learning dance) is inspiring them and giving them a way where they can escape,” Griggs-Drane said. “We all are at a place where we can play music. They get to explore themselves and we need more of that in this world.”

The program is not only for children in Indianapolis, but also students at Butler.

“I’m touched when the Butler students discover they can make a difference in a child’s life,” Thickstun said. “They discover they love teaching and continue after they graduate. I love seeing the Butler students discover what their true passion is.”

Erin Peyer, a graduate student at Butler, teaches piano classes at the school.

“When I was looking at grad schools, Butler was the only place that had something like this,” Peyer said. “It’s great for college students that want to teach get that experience.”

The 100 Butler students that work at the school not only receive valuable teaching experience, but they learn other things as well.

“Some discover their future path or their love of children,” Thickstun said. “Some discover how diverse our community really is, and for some it’s a culture shock. It gives them a greater sense of how Butler fits into the Indianapolis community, not just with teaching, but with arts in general.”

And while students are discovering things about themselves, they are helping children and adults in the surrounding Butler community.

“(The Community Arts School) does so much good for the community in general,” Griggs-Drane said. “I think it’s good we’re using the gifts we’re getting at this private institution.”

Thickstun said since 2002, the Community Arts School has been growing without a specific plan for growth. She said many community partners are enrolling more children, and they have seen an increase in enrollment on campus.

“Right now, we are constrained in reaching students,” Thickstun said. “I write grants for need-based scholarships, and we are serving as many children as we possibly can. But until we find new sources of income, we aren’t trying to add a whole lot of new courses.”

Even with limited funds, the school is able to offer 62 percent of children a scholarship.

Thickstun said the statistics are just  meaningless numbers, but they give people a scope of what Butler students can do.

“I’ve learned anything is possible,” Griggs-Drane said. “It’s so satisfying to see progress. I open a door for these kids. I don’t know their home lives, but no matter what their background is, we can come together and dance.”

Whether it’s through dance, music or theatre, the Butler Community Arts School is impacting children throughout the Indianapolis community.

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