When A Violin Or Art Lesson Is Out Of Reach, Teachers And Philanthropists Step In

Mar 26, 2019

Founded in 2007 by Barbara Deegan, the Ozark String Project provides string instruments and education to students in the Ava area.
Credit (Photo courtesy Ozark String Project)

This afternoon we’ll look at arts education and participation among children in economically-disadvantaged circumstances—and how area educators, artists and arts administrators are attempting to counter the problem. 

For Marty Moore, Executive Director of Learning Support and Partnerships for Springfield Public Schools, the problem is that families in poverty always have to make choices about where that money’s going to go. 

"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out those arts experiences are going to fall to the bottom of that list,” Moore said.

Rachel Johnson, Director of Programs and Exhibitions for the Springfield Regional Arts Council, agrees.

“It’s not for lack of interest.  If your home life is really unstable, you’re trying to figure out where your next meal comes from, your parents don’t know how they’re going to pay rent… life problems put a lot of roadblocks in the way,” said Johnson.

Helping counteract the negative effects, says Marty Moore, is the Springfield community’s dedicated advocacy of the arts, and especially the city’s partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and their nationwide “Any Given Child” program. 

There are 27 communities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico partnering with Any Given Child, and Springfield is the only Missouri city on the list. 

The primary goal of Any Given Child, according to the Kennedy Center web site, is “to create full access to, and equity in, arts education programs and resources for kindergarten through 8th-grade students.” 

According to Marty Moore of Springfield Public Schools, “17,000-plus students out of our 25,000 kids are provided with arts experiences.”

Among many other experiences, 1st graders attend Springfield Regional Opera; 2nd graders attend Springfield Ballet performances; 4th graders attend Springfield Little Theatre; and 5th graders go to the Springfield Art Museum. 

“And,” adds Moore, “there’s a really cool program by a private donor in the city, called ‘My Studio to Go,’ that provides [visual] art supplies to under-resourced students in grades two and six.”

There’s also the “Play it Again” program that buys musical instruments for low-income students. 

In addition to all the “Any Given Child” programs, Marty Moore reminds us that SPS has art teachers in every school. 

"So students, they have those arts experiences every day,” Moore said.

And that’s not just during the school year, says Rachel Johnson of Springfield Regional Arts Council. 

“During the summer, there is an eight-week program called ‘Arts in the Park,’" she said, referring to Jordan Valley Park, where the Arts Council offices are located.

"Every week we work with a different local group, whether it’s the opera, the symphony, visual artists, and they will give us a different week-long intensive for youth on their art form.  And we get that totally covered by a mix of the Missouri Arts Council grant, other local grants—this year the Junior League is supporting us—and support from our own membership,” Johnson said.

The Arts Council also offers “Mini Monet,” which provides group art instruction for preschool-age kids at Monarch Children’s Academy.

“Our aim,” says Rachel Johnson, “is to be able to bring arts and arts education to these youth who might not otherwise be able to have that opportunity and exposure.”

In rural Ozarks areas, music teachers step up to meet need

School districts in rural areas, and the kids they serve, often don’t have the same kinds of resources we have in Springfield—Douglas and Howell counties in Missouri, for example. 

“It takes a key person to say, ‘Okay, if this isn’t happening during the school day, what can we create after school to help those students out?’” That’s Barbara Deegan, an orchestra conductor in the Ava area who, in 2007, founded the Ozark String Project to give kids (and even a few parents) the chance to learn to play string instruments—specifically violin, viola and cello. 

Deegan says she felt that “in an area with such an active string culture, there certainly should be string instruction.  There were very few private teachers, and none of the schools in the area had any string programs.  I wanted the kids to learn fiddle tune, I wanted them to learn classical music.”

So Deegan came up with the idea of offering group lessons, which would keep the tuition costs affordable for minimum-wage parents, but still allow a string instructor to make enough to get by.  The Ozark String Project is an after-school program for 2nd grade through high school. 

The students use instruments supplied by the String Project. 

Some have been donated, some purchased with proceeds from passing the hat at concerts. And, says founder Barbara Deegan, “Some of them I’ve bought.  And some of them, our cello teacher Jean Koenig has donated. And some of them we’ve just found at yard sales!”

And some have been donated by violin and viola instructor Dani Collins, a violinist in the Springfield Symphony and a full-time string instructor in the Ava area, with a very large private studio.  She also directs the Southern Ozarks Youth Orchestra in Willow Springs. 

Barbara Deegan recruited her to help grow the Ozark String Project, says Collins.

“The whole purpose of me coming was to provide quality lessons for low cost.  I believe in bringing music to children.  We kind of do what we have to do.  I mean, I have bought music.  I have bought instruments for children—out of my own pocket.  I think (art and music instruction) can change child’s entire life if they have something to work towards, with a goal. They get self-esteem, there’s a thing thing—a sense of community," said COllins.

Dani Collins even persuaded fiddle virtuoso Mark O’Connor to donate his string-method books to the Ozark String Project.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

For more information on the Ozark String Project, visit www.ozarkstringproject.com. To learn about the Southern Ozarks Community Orchestra and Youth Orchestra in Willow Springs, visit www.willowspringsartscouncil.org.  And to find out about Springfield's participation in the Kennedy Center's "Any Given Child" initiative, visit www.springfieldarts.org/any-given-child-springfield.