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Arts education is a vital part of children’s development from preschool to high school. Creative projects build motor skills, cognitive skills, help with language development and self-expression, and are also known to help boost academic performance.
Linda and Paul Leopoulos saw the effects of being involved in the arts in their daughter, Thea, who went from struggling in school and getting Cs and Ds to making As and Bs and loving school by the end of her junior year.
Thea died in a car accident in 2001, and her parents learned days later than she was to receive an A in trigonometry that year. They sought to understand why her grades had so suddenly and dramatically improved.
They credited the change to her involvement in visual arts, dance, theater and creative writing programs at school.
They started the Thea Foundation, which is based in Little Rock, that same year, awarding scholarships to visual arts students at Thea’s school, North Little Rock High.
Akiko Kyong-McClain, the 2014 1st place performing arts scholarship winner
How the Thea Foundation Helps
Since then the foundation and its mission has grown to encourage, supply and fund young artists across the state, said Stacey Bowers, communications coordinator for the foundation.
“Thea Foundation’s mission is to advocate the researched and proven importance of the arts in the development of Arkansas’s youth,” she said. “Since 2002, Thea Foundation has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to Arkansas high school seniors, distributed more than $1.5 million in art supplies to underfunded schools, implemented numerous creative programs for Arkansas’s youth during and after school hours, and encouraged a growing arts community in Arkansas by supporting local artists and arts enthusiasts with exhibitions, festivals and other community events.”
A major way the foundation reaches students is through Thea’s Art Closet, which allows the foundation to help fund projects submitted by teachers to DonorsChoose. The foundation jumpstarts funding for projects through mini grants, and DonorsChoose buys and sends the supplies when the fundraising is complete.
Bowers shared a story of a teacher in Conway who combined music and science in her classroom and was able to purchase supplies for her students to make their own musical instruments to help them learn about the connections between music and physics.
“Thea Foundation’s programs affect students all the way from kindergarten to college,” Bowers said. “Our program Thea’s Art Closet puts quality creative materials into the hands of Arkansas students in underfunded classrooms; Thea’s Arts Reconstruction program partners with existing institutions and schools to augment existing arts programs or build new ones during and after school hours; and Thea’s Scholarship program awards 30 scholarships a year to talented teens across Arkansas, regardless of their test scores, GPAs or fields of interest in college.”
Thanks to the recent Arkansas Gives fundraising effort, the foundation will be able to double its funding for Thea’s Art Closet for the 2016-17 school year, Bowers said.
The foundation also raises funds through two major events each year. The second annual Into the Blue: An Evening with President Clinton was May 15 at the Clinton Presidential Center.
“This beautiful dinner celebrates the work we’ve done and prepares for the road ahead of us while showcasing some of the talented Thea scholarship winners who have succeeded on the stages of Broadway and beyond,” she said.
The foundation also hosts the Governor’s Culinary Challenge, which will take place in October at the Capitol Hotel. Eight local chefs and two mixologists will share their creations at the event.How to Help
Bowers said the foundation always needs volunteers for events like quarterly Art Department shows that showcase up-and- coming Arkansas artists and their annual sidewalk chalk event called Thea Paves the Way, which will be held in September, as well as the culinary event.
They also use volunteers who can help during business hours. For more information on how you can help, contact Bowers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (501) 379-9512.
Photos courtesy of Mark Fonville Photography
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