NHS cast of Into the Woods

Celebrating Arts in Education

 National Arts in Education

The state’s advocacy organization for the arts and arts education—ArtsNC—asked board members to share stories about the reason they became arts advocates. Since we are celebrating National Arts in Education Week, it’s interesting to go back and read about a group of students that were so central to all my later advocacy efforts.

I remember walking into my daughter’s middle school one afternoon about 10 years ago where I was a volunteer and served as an occasional accompanist. For several years the arts teachers had produced a play in the Spring as an extracurricular activity, even creating original works with local composers. This day, the music teacher met me, slightly agitated, and said very quickly, “We’ve decided to do Oliver! this year and … you’ll play piano, won’t you?” [His primary instrument was guitar.] “We’ve hired a great director and the kids are really excited.” “Ah… well … OK … sure.” And we were off.

Middle school cast members of Oliver!

Orphans, Pickpockets, Thespians

A cast of 40 middle schoolers learning lines, choreography, music, and how to be pickpockets too. Parents and students searching out the perfect costumes. Recruiting a talented alum to play percussion and a local business to provide real sound and lights. Adapting the score for piano, drums, guitar, fiddle, and recorder. Scheduling rehearsals, researching program notes, designing posters, shooting photographs for publicity. Watching students work together, creating characters, blocking scenes, practicing vocal exercises, painting sets, learning harmony, helping design the choreography. It was thrilling. Here was a perfect project-based learning activity. Combining all sorts of disciplines. Engaging a wide variety of students and community. It was a play, it was a musical, but it was really just that in the service of something bigger.



I followed those students to high school where, for many, the Spring musical became the highlight of the year, from November to March. It’s an annual event, a collaboration of the entire arts education department and open to the entire student body. The faculty is the production team—the theatre instructor directs, dance instructors design and teach choreography, the visual arts instructor and students provide set design and publicity, band and choral instructors conduct and/or play in the pit, and teach the music to actors and musicians.

Set Decorators—Beauty and the Beast

Building the Beast’s Library

Those middle school pickpockets grew up to work on Once Upon a Mattress, Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, Into the Woods, Guys & Dolls, the 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee and Seussical. They traveled to elementary schools and introduced young students to live theatre. They played to standing room-only audiences. They turned the entire house into a glorious forest for Into the Woods.They were nominated for regional awards. They learned time management, how to create characters, collaboration, how to save their voices, how to share the spotlight, how to change keys six times in one piece, how to perform in the face of private fears and with the threat of a few very real tragedies. Dedicated, talented, creative teachers worked hundreds of unpaid hours to teach lessons with an incredible slight of hand that makes the teaching almost invisible.

Into the Woods

Northwood High School’s Into the Woods

From the time they entered middle school, these students had a yearly theatre project experience, involving a large number of students and teachers and parents. They got to work with experienced teaching artists and production professionals. There was a lot of community support and recognition for their efforts and the value of the project.

Students carried this enthusiasm and community and expectation all through high school. Looking back, quite a few went on to study dance, music, theatre, or visual arts. Some are still students.Others are educators, performers, journalists, social workers, arts administrators, lawyers, members of the military. What was the value and what was the impact?

There is lots of discussion about whether the value of arts education is arts for arts sake or for the kind of tangential benefits it can provide—increasing test scores, improving math or literacy or social skills or empathy or things like school attendance or civic engagement.  When I think of all these students, how can you ever say? It’s all these things. Some benefits for one. Different benefits for others. For some the arts will become a profession. For others an avocation. For others a vehicle for community or worship or recreation or education or rehabilitation. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all our students have access to such transformative experiences.

Celebrate and Support Arts in Education in your community.


Remarks to Chatham County Board of Commissioners

My name is Gina Harrison and I currently serve as President of the Board for the Chatham Arts Council. As you consider priorities for the upcoming budget year, I want to thank you for your efforts to fully restore County support for the arts, to share a bit about the work of the Chatham Arts Council specifically, and to provide some information about why I believe it is a worthwhile investment. According the US Conference of Mayors (2008), “Governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of more than $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.”1

The New Chatham Arts Council

CAC-logo-stackSM_GRNAfter celebrating our 30th Anniversary, we took a year to reflect and reassess our mission, goals, and future direction. We spoke to a broad spectrum of the community. With a talented, dedicated executive director, and board representation that now includes local government, the creative community, business leaders, higher education, and Chatham County Schools, we rolled out our new identify and work scope this past November.

We nurture creative thinkers
We invest in artists | We educate kids through the arts.2

We invest in artists:

  • Administering the NC Grassroots Arts Grants (as the designated county partner to the NC Arts Council) that support performing arts organizations and nonprofits that use the arts to achieve their goals. Annually the Grassroots program invests between $15,000 and $20,000 in Chatham county.
  • Sponsoring Emerging Artist Grants.
  • Promoting Chatham arts and artists through our redesigned website featuring an updated Artist Directory and Arts Calendar, Spotlight articles, social media, weekly newsletter, and press releases. (Weflytrap’re reaching more than 1700 people online every day and we have more than 1200 e-news subscribers. Our January featured artist received more than 1,000 visits to her Facebook page and hundreds of new hits on her website at Flytrap Clothing when her feature was published.)

We educate kids through the arts:

  • Producing ClydeFEST—our annual kids’ folk art festival.
  • Piloting a new Arts-in-Education Residency Program in 2015–2016.

FestMail Vidabeth

As noted in the council’s vision for long-term impacts of this work for the future of Chatham County:

  • Solvency for artists makes it likely that artists will continue to live here. Creative communities have a higher quality of life, and communities with a higher quality of life have stronger economies. Greater awareness of the arts can keep more residents in town on the weekends—and draw visitors here, too.
  • Educating kids through the arts grows creative thinkers, and creative thinkers make strong employees, employers, and entrepreneurs for
    Chatham County.

Highlighting and promoting the work of our creative community attracts tourists and encourages our citizens to spend leisure time and dollars here as well. A vibrant creative community is part of the package that makes Chatham attractive to prospective businesses.

We know that participation in strong arts education programs is associated with increased cognitive development, reduced school dropout rates, increased test scores, higher education attainment, and greater civic participation.3

Two More Points from Americans for the Arts 

  • When we reduce their support for the arts, we are not cutting frills. Rather, we’re undercutting an industry that is a cornerstone of tourism, economic development, and the revitalization of many downtowns. When we increase support for the arts, we are generating tax revenues, jobs, and a creativity-based economy.
  • The typical attendee to a nonprofit arts event spends $27.79 per person, per event (excluding admission) on transportation, lodging, and other event-related costs. Nonlocal attendees spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($40.19 vs. $19.53). Thirty-nine percent of attendees are nonlocal. Few industries can boast this kind of event-related spending.4

Chatham—The Creative Community in the Creative State

Our updated Artist Directory includes Chatham professionals working in more than 30 creative disciplines—Authors, Photographers, Actors, Jewelers, Painters, Musicians, Folk Artists, Directors, Designers, Choreographers, Teaching Artists, Woodworkers, Producers, Poets, Screenwriters, Voiceover Artists, Fabric Artists, Editors, Stained Glass Artisans, Printers, Illustrators, Potters, Glass Blowers, Storytellers, Graphic Designers, Book Designers, Sculptors, Songwriters, Choral Conductors, Paper Makers, Web Designers, and Composers!

They are self-employed small business owners. They work in all levels of education. They exhibit, perform, and teach across the country. Some are recipients of emerging artist grants. Others are master craftsmen and performers at the zenith of distinguished careers. Galleries, restaurants, clubs, bookshops, and schools/camps/studios directly benefit from their presence.

Many Chatham students—graduating from the oldest comprehensive arts education public school program in NC are also pursing arts careers—studying dance in Seattle,WA; theatre in MN, at East Carolina, and at UNCG; graphic design in New York; opera at Appalachian; instrumental music at the UNC School of the Arts; and pursuing doctoral studies in Jazz as a Mancini Scholar in Miami.

Some artists preserve our heritage—they are our lifeline to skills, processes, music and stories of a time long past. Newcomers add the flair, creativity, and traditions of different cultures to the mix. Others are incorporating technology and striking out in exciting new directions. They are all our most valuable natural resource.

Education. Promotion. Celebration. Commemoration. 

We look forward to opportuities to work with the Board on Commissioners on future initiatives to enhance and celebrate the place that we love. Your support to increase our capacity is vital to this important work and greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

1Retrieved February 27 from Americans for the Arts website: http://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/toolkits/local-arts-rapid-response-kit/local-arts-rapid-response-kit-key-industry-stakeholders

2 Chatham Arts Council http://www.ChathamArtsCouncil.org

3 The Arts Education Navigator: Facts and Figures. http://issuu.com/americans4arts/docs/afta_navigator_facts-and-figures/19?e=2915314/1587929

4Americans for the Arts: http://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/toolkits/local-arts-rapid-response-kit/local-arts-rapid-response-kit-talking-points

Invest in the Arts on #GivingTuesday

GT_icon_arts-150x150 For #GivingTuesday, I’d like share some arts and arts education organizations I work with and/or support. I recommend these to you. They do good, important work. Their efforts improve our communities, assist our teachers and schools, and provide our students new opportunities. They need your investment—your time, your talents, your money. JMArts

Grease Cast

Cast & Crew of the 2014 SRO production of Grease.

JMArts supports arts education at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City. Founded in 2011, their enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers have funded field trips, arts performances, headed up fundraising for their new grand piano, helped produce the annual musical, and sent dozens of kids to summer arts camps. Visit their Facebook page to learn more about their fantastic work. Send a kid to camp! If you want to be part of the effort, contact JMArts President Rose Pate.


“Ensuring excellence in arts education by identifying, creating, and supporting programs that enrich learning, foster student achievement and increase community involvement.”

NHSAEF Scholars Listing

NHSAEF Scholarship Recipients

Northwood High School in Pittsboro, NC was named a 2013 Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts School of Excellence for their distinguished, comprehensive arts education program. Sister organization of JMArts, the Northwood High School Arts Education Foundation was founded in 2007 to support and promote  NorthwoodArts.  Teacher grants provide resources for the ongoing work of the department, the Carlin Camp fund supports students’ summer arts activities, and annual college scholarships recognize achievements in visual and performing arts. Since its inception, NHSAEF has presented more than $35,000 in scholarship funds. Visit NHSAEF online to learn more and to make a gift. Make a contribution and name a scholarship in someone’s honor or memory. Contact Leslie Burwell to become a much-needed volunteer.

NHSBFAA Northwood also has a new organization this year making contributions easier than ever. Visit the NHS Boosters, Friends and Alumni site. BFAAYou can arrange a single or monthly donation to support a wide array of programs. You can contribute directly to individual sports, each arts discipline as well as NHSAEF, career & technical education programs, clubs or their general fund.

Chatham Arts Council

“Nurturing Creative Thinkers”

After celebrating 30 years promoting & producing arts events in our community, the Chatham Arts Council spent the past year examining their work, their focus, their impact, and their mission. In November 2014, they introduced a new identity—new logo, new website and new focus. Settling on two focus areas, the Chatham AChatham Arts Council logorts Council will 1) Invest in artists and 2) Educate kids through the arts.  Visit their website to learn more.  View or submit your own profile for the Chatham Artists Directory. Find all the latest Chatham County arts events on the Arts Calendar—including ClydeFEST, the annual arts festival for children! Learn about the planning process for arts-in-education residencies beginning during the 2015-2016 academic year. Become a member. Join the mailing list. Volunteer. Contribute.

“Uniting people and communities to strengthen and celebrate a creative North Carolina.”

Arts North Carolina, is our statewide advocacy organization for the arts and arts education. Governed by a statewide Board of Directors, ArtsNC unifies and connects North Carolina’s arts communities. ArtsNC provides advocacy training, develops a ARTS-PLATE-C_WEBlegislative agenda focusing on grants funding for the NC Arts Council and statewide arts education policy. It sponsors Arts Day, an annual two-day event with conference speakers and a legislative day for members to meet and discuss the importance of arts initiatives in their communities with their legislators. In addition to hundreds of individuals, member organizations include more than 200 arts councils, museums, educational institutions, professional organizations, theatre companies, galleries, dance companies, festivals, music ensembles, and foundations from across North Carolina. Visit ArtsNC online. Become a member. Join their mailing list. Purchase a ARTS license plate—it creates revenue to support the work of ArtsNC, it brands NC as “the creative state” and you as a strong arts supporter, and it funds the NC wildflower and visitor center accessibility programs!

Remarks to Chatham County Board of Education

Dr. Jordan, Mr. Hamm and Members of the Board:

In the summer of 2007 I made my first presentation to the School Board to advocate for funds for the Northwood Arts Wing. I proposed that “talented students and dedicated faculty could only continue their tradition of excellence for a limited amount of time without a facility and resources to support them.” Faculty would be lured to other districts or retire and traditions wane without attention and nourishment. The board had several options, but made the bold decision to move forward and invest in Northwood.

CCS has provided an excellent facility, an arts-champion as principal, additional faculty to begin to meet the demand for this coursework, administrative positions in the county office focusing on arts education and a public stage to highlight the arts with programs like All-County Chorus, All-County Band and the Arts Extravaganza.

Each year, I come to share the good news about this remarkable program. 2012–2013, when Northwood celebrated it’s 40th Anniversary, is no exception. This year’s Annual Report touches on the myriad events that comprise the curriculum—classwork, projects, club meetings, performances, competitions, field trips, master classes, exhibitions and celebrations. Cumulatively, we know they provide a rich groundwork for our students to move into higher education. Our graduates go on to study engineering, neuroscience, and dentistry. They continue in arts education—at NC School of Design, ECU, UNC-Chapel Hill. We have high school students, college students, and graduates at the UNC School of the Arts—some recently featured in the media working on projects with their Cirque de Soleil program. Our visual arts students attend SCAD in Georgia, Pratt in Brooklyn and the School of Visual Arts in New York. We have drama students studying in Dublin this semester and a dancer at the Cornish College for the Arts in Washington. Musicians are studying instrumental music at the School of the Arts, opera at Appalachian, and Jazz Studies as a post-graduate Mancini Fellow in Miami. Alumni are working in the motion picture and advertising industries in California, in the fashion industry in Atlanta, as professional musicians here in NC, and performing with Holland American Cruise Lines.

As you think about the future, I have three recommendations …

  1. Check out ArtsEdSearch. This database of evidence-based research from the Arts Education Partnership backs up what we know anecdotally about the power of the arts to enhance educational outcomes and improve the lives of our students.
  2. This board has always had the wisdom to take the long view. From the NEA Project Entice which brought dance to Northwood in the 70s to recognition from the Kennedy Center in 2003 for Northwood’s comprehensive Arts Education program (the only one so recognized in the state that year). Consider if there is potentially a good match for a Chatham County School and the A+ Schools Program—the largest, longest running, most successful, arts-based whole-school reform effort in the nation. It’s a worthy program to consider for a system that can claim the oldest, comprehensive public school arts education program in NC.
  3. Consider undertaking A Community Audit for Arts Education: Better Schools, Better Skills, Better Communities. In November 2000, the Kennedy Center developed this tool to assist local education, community and cultural leaders in assessing the status of arts education in schools and school districts, and to encourage community partnerships to strengthen and expand arts education for all students. It is most valuable as a vehicle for encouraging conversation and community planning in support of arts education. And perhaps investigate their Any Given Child initiative.  [Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Ed. Tools & Resources.]

Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to another challenging, exciting, creative year and we hope to see you again soon at a NorthwoodArts performance.

Comments to County Commissioners

Comments to Chatham County Commissioners
May 20, 2013

My name is Gina Harrison. I’m an arts education advocate here in Chatham County—founding president of the NHS Arts Education Foundation, a board member of ArtsNC, and a volunteer serving on the Board of ChathamArts.

ChathamArts LogoThank you for the opportunity to speak as you consider public funding for ChathamArts—the Chatham County Arts Council for the coming year.  I know people are divided on the question of whether Government should support the Arts.

I would like to suggest you consider a slightly different question tonight as you deliberate—Does the mission and do the activities of ChathamArts advance YOUR goals and objectives for our county now and could it be more effective in working together in the future?

Does promoting and “celebrating our county’s heritage and identity”  inspire residents who live and work here?  Is it an asset in attracting business and economic development? Do activities and events like Clydefest, the Annual Bluegrass Concert, this year’s film/lecture series on American Music History at the Public Library, build community? attract visitors and tourists who spend money in our county?

IMG_0399Is providing the opportunity for our students to see world class performers in concert, and to work directly with them in residencies, valuable? From the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the 2009 Piemont Laureate Jackie Shelton Greene, to EbzB’s residency creating a theatre piece for middle schoolers about discrimination, ChathamArts works each year with the school system to enhance educational experiences for our students.

And is it an asset for ChathamArts to administer the Grassroot Arts Grants in Chatham County?  Working in concert with local organizations on projects aimed at reducing hunger, improving literacy, assisting those with developmental disabilities, and preserving our environmental resources?

ChathamArts does this and more, with only two part-time employees. Most of the work is done by volunteers. I suggest that these are valuable, even essential to progress, and that it is the combined responsibility of public government, local business, and private individuals.  You are not ChathamArts’ sole means of support, but your investment is a powerful statement about the goals and priorities and vision of our community.

The work of ChathamArts “enriches education, enhances economic development, and enlivens our community.”

And that kind of investment IS worthy of public support.

Thank you.

Remembering What Might Have Been

It’s Saturday at 2pm and I should be sitting in the War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro, proudly supporting our four Northwood singers amid the 800+ high school singers from across North Carolina at this year’s NC High School All-State Choral Festival. We would have gathered on Thursday night, then spent A LONG day rehearsing (morning, afternoon, and into the evening) divided into three choirs—the NC Music Education Association (NCMEA) 9-10th Choir, the American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) Women’s Choir, and the NCMEA 11-12th Choir.

Two Northwood singers are returning for their 2nd and 3rd years, and they know what an exciting weekend it is. Meeting, singing, and sharing with peers (did I tell you it’s more than 800 high school singers?) “from Murphy to Manteo.” Learning new music, historical background, technique, getting to work with talented college instructors, and measuring their skill and preparation with the group at large. Maybe thinking about getting to sing in college. And performing with perhaps one of the largest groups and for their largest audience ever. For the other two, this would have been a brand new experience. Also, this is one of the first big activities for our new choral director, Matthew Hanson. It’s his first year at Northwood and his first year teaching. What a great chance to meet and talk and learn and observe with colleagues from across North Carolina. And he’s a UNC-G graduate, so it’s all happening right in his back yard.

This was to be my third trip as Girl Friday and official NHS Arts cheerleader.  Our previous choral director, Marilyn Shugart, began having her students participate in All-State, and it was a tremendous boost for our choral program. It’s fascinating to watch how talented musicians can come together, focus intensively for 24 hours, and create this remarkable event. You get to hear standard choral repertoire as well as new contemporary works, and even world premieres commissioned especially for the festival.

As a member of the Duke Chapel Choir, I get to experience something not unlike this. I am fortunate to sing regularly in a group of more than 100, and very occasionally in a choir of up to 300 for special events, performing some of the world’s most gorgeous music literature and working with the most gifted musicians in the entire region. We occasionally talk about the fact that singers may never know the impact that their music has on a congregation, an audience, or to people who listen on the radio, TV or thru the Web.

Alas, perhaps our only “weather event” of the winter has cancelled this year’s festival. It’s not hard to understand why such a massive undertaking cannot be re-scheduled—the coordinator, Beverly Alt, has tremendous responsibilities securing the hotel rooms, the rehearsal venue, the performance hall, the clinicians, the accompanists, the assistants, the administrative work, the multiple sectional rehearsal personnel and spaces. So I’m sure the disappointment is much greater for her and her colleagues. But today I think about the converse of not knowing the impact of your efforts —the  impact of the missed opportunity for talented young singers.

I went back to some video from last year and it will show you most clearly what may have been lost. This is the finale from the 2012 festival, featuring the 11-12th Choir. The conductor is a marvelous, dynamic instructor from the University of Miami, Dr. Karen Kennedy. [read an excellent profile here, and you’ll get a sense of why she was a perfect choice to conduct.] The accompanist is Gwen Hall, choral director of Southwestern Randolph High School, with degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Masters from the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign.

Think about this. You’re a director in Florida, selecting music in the fall for a January performance in NC with 300 kids you’ve never met, and with whom you will only get to work for less than two days. You choose this song to end your program and it includes a solo.  You don’t know who will audition.  In Greensboro, more than 40 brave singers stepped forward at the end of the day on Friday to apply. Many were quite good and well prepared. Many would have done fine work.  And as you can see from Dr. Kennedy’s profile, this is a regular part of her professional work.  But sometimes, a young man like Demarcus walks through the door.  And there is magic …  The soloist, the conductor, the music, the pianist, the choir, the audience together JUST ONCE, for just 5 minutes that will never come again.   Watch …

Arts Abounding

Busy week here in central NC for the arts and arts ed …

  1. ARTSNC logo 2010ArtsNC Board meets this Thursday in Greensboro. Planning for Regional Arts Summits prior to Arts Day 2013: April 9-10. Coming to Hickory, Goldsboro, Concord, and the Triangle in February and March. [Oh, and by the way, have you ordered your Arts License Plate yet?]
  2. Scholastic Art Awards at Barton College were just announced, and Northwood students received Gold Keys, Silver Keys, and Honorable Mentions.  The Awards Ceremony is scheduled for Feb 3 and the exhibition runs thru Feb 22 at Barton College Art Gallery.
  3. Traveling back to Greensboro with NHS singers for the NCMEA High School All-State Choir.  This annual event highlights more than 800 of our state’s finest singers and gives them the opportunity to work with outstanding collegiate choral directors to prepare for the Jan. 26 concert at the War Memorial Auditorium. Read more about the three choirs, the clinicians, and this year’s program here.
  4. Meanwhile, NHS will have an instrumentalist taking part in the Central District Bandmasters Association All-District Band Clinic in Raleigh.
  5. And finally, attending a big event commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts to celebrate  the centennial of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring—The premiere weekend of A Rite, a collaborative work by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company & SITI Company.