Art in rural Arizona

Promoting the arts and art programs in rural areas can open doors and set children and youth on the path to academic, artistic and personal success.

“Having a healthy and robust arts sector in any community is a fundamental importance. These artists and arts organizations really provide opportunities for communities to gather together, engage in dialogue around areas that can be difficult to talk about, they can be a source of pride and cultural identity for the community. That applies to big cities and small towns alike,” said Steve Wilcox, Arizona Commission on the Arts communications director.

He said, “But, particularly in a rural environment or a remote community we see the arts really having a very important role in giving people opportunities to get together and to really express the local identity.”

Research shows that art benefits educational advancement, especially in children and youth.

According to the 2016 Music, Language and Learning: Investigating the Impact of a Music Workshop Project in Four English Early Years Settings report, a series of music workshops for children aged two-to-four was effective in advancing language attainment, communication skills and confidence.

Although rural areas often face challenges establishing, promoting and maintaining arts and art programs, the art community in those areas works to engage with children and youth.

The Summer Youth Musical Theatre Program (SYMTP) in Globe, Arizona is a year-round program that has received support from its community.

“Our program is kind of structured in a way that kids get involved in every single aspect of the process. So, they’re working on costumes, they’re doing elements of design, they’re helping with sets and props, they’re learning technical things from lights and sound. We really try to make sure the kids get exposed to all of the parts,” said Paul Tunis, SYMTP program director.

SYMTP started off as a summer program, but now provides in-school and after-school services so students can participate in the program all year.

Tunis explained that the after-school program reaches nearly 2,000 six-to-18-year-olds in the Globe area annually.  

“I hope that people are open to supporting nonprofits in rural areas because you really can see big jumps in less resources and the number of people that can be served with that energy and the funding,” Tunis explained.

The effort to engage children and youth with the arts is paying off.

Flagstaff High School in Flagstaff, Arizona was named the grand prize winner of the Vans Custom Culture art competition. The school won $75,000 to put toward its art program after its designs received the most votes.

Sierra Ciaramella

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