Program aims to foster students’ personal connections to academics via artistic immersion

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PITTBORO — If you love the arts, you know how transformative it can be to experience a live performance.

But access to the arts is not equal. Many children don’t have access to crayons and markers, let alone the opportunity to see a show or hear a concert. The Chatham Arts Council is working to change that through its Artists-in-Schools Initiative. In partnership with Chatham County Schools and public charter schools in the county, the CAC, through the initiative, is providing arts residencies to students, one transformative experience at a time.

The CAC’s Artists-in-Schools Initiative brings professional artists into local schools to help make deeper curriculum connections through art, theatre and music. The organization has been successfully growing the program since the 2015-16 school year and aims to be in every school, every year, by 2025.

“We’ve seen first-hand how these residencies awaken something in students that allows them to express themselves in new and creative ways,” said Julie Amani, the Artists-in-Schools facilitator for the Chatham Arts Council. “That is powerful. That is transformational. That is at the heart of our Artists-in-Schools Initiative.”

Research shows the arts help students develop innovative problem-solving skills, build self-confidence, provide a creative outlet, and offer a path for processing trauma — something that continues to be critical during the ongoing pandemic.

This year’s Artists-in-Schools season will bring artists into all 11 public Chatham County elementary and K-8 schools, four charter schools, and the Virtual Academy, with programming primarily for 5th graders. Students will experience performances and take part in engaging workshops on a variety of subjects, building a connection to core curriculum content. Artists include Black Box Dance Theatre (modern dance), John Brown (jazz music), Diali Cissokho (West African music), EbzB Productions (theatre), Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana (Spanish dance), The Magic of Africa Rhythm (African drumming, dancing, storytelling, and visual arts), Phillip Shabazz (poetry), and Mike Wiley (theatre). The season will run from the fall through April.

“One goal of educators is to reach all students,” said David Clark, a music teacher at Bonlee School. “However, some students are more difficult to engage with than others. Mike Wiley’s engaging presentation [last year] and encouraging demeanor resulted in student participation and volunteering from students who are normally rather passive.”

Making direct curriculum connections

Fundamental to the success of Artists-in-Schools residencies is the ability for the artist and teacher to collaborate, ensuring that the interactive workshops leverage the arts to support learning objectives. This year, artists are using their craft to create opportunities for a deeper engagement with diverse subjects:

• Nationally known theater artist Mike Wiley: social studies, writing

• Modern dance company Black Box Dance Theatre: mathematics, dance

• Nationally recognized jazz musician John Brown: social studies, music

• West African musician and storyteller Diali Cissokho: mathematics, social studies, dance, music

• Poet Phillip Shabazz: writing

• Spanish dance company Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana: social studies, mathematics, dance

• The Magic of Africa Rhythm, a group which focuses on the African concept of Ngoma, the “rhythmic thread” that links drumming, dancing, storytelling and visual arts together: social studies, science, dance, music

• Theater production company EbzB Productions: social studies

As of now, this year’s residencies will take place in person, with COVID-19 precautions in place. All artists working in person with students are required to be vaccinated and will wear masks when working directly with the students.

Last year, during remote learning, the CAC shifted its program to become Artists-OUTSIDE-Schools, providing monthly artist videos, interactive virtual workshops, and roving neighborhood music and dance performances to reach children through the arts in a safe way. With students back in school, the organization is thrilled to be returning to in-person residencies, providing an opportunity for children to interact with myriad artists and discover the arts in a way they never have before.

For more information on Artists-in-Schools, please visit


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