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$200K grant supports school arts programs

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HUDSON – The Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has once again upped the ante for support of local arts and humanities education last week, with a $200,000 donation for a new initiative called the Columbia Arts and Humanities Project. The project is aimed at making connections among arts and humanities programs at the six public school districts in the county.

Working with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, each of the districts — Chatham, Germantown, Hudson, Ichabod Crane, New Lebanon and Taconic Hills — already has a local fund working on different projects in the arts and humanities, and the new donation is intended to promote the sharing of programs, which include special presentations at the Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA, and events like last year’s career night at Taconic Hills geared specifically for students interested in the arts. The money will also promote new programs for students in the county.

The project has hired as its coordinator Jeffery Levitsky, an education consultant and former New York City English teacher, who recently worked with the city’s Frank Sinatra School for the Arts. At the press conference announcing the grant Friday, April 29, at the Hudson Junior High School library, Mr. Levitsky said one of the first elements of the project would be a “countywide arts website.” Among other services, he said the website would make it possible for students to request information from artists, with each request reviewed by a teacher who may help arrange an internship or find a mentor.

Mr. Levistsky also said the program would be working with the Bard College Conservatory of Music and on a program that would help aspiring student musicians write and record their own music. That project will culminate in a “rock festival” at Club Helsinki in Hudson.

Mr. Kelly, a painter and sculptor of international renown, whose home and studio are in Spencertown, did not attend the event, but he issued a statement saying, in part, “As arts programs are being cut across the country, the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has been able to touch the lives of thousands of children through programs in arts and humanities programs throughout Columbia County.”

Jack Shear, who directs the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, said at the press conference Friday that he sees the project as an opportunity for the schools to “work together in a unique and powerful way.”

Over the last decade the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has repeatedly supported arts education enrichment activities in local schools, helping to start the funds in each district that will help those activities continue in the future. In her remarks Friday, Jennifer Dowley, president of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, stressed that the money for the project is not supported by tax dollars and that the concept behind the individual school district arts funds is that they will become self-sustaining through local contributions. Praising the Kelly Foundation as “a committed and enlightened donor,” she said, “It inspired communities to raise funds so their programs can exist in perpetuity.”

During the press conference representatives from each of the school districts or their arts and humanities funds spoke about the impact the money from the foundation has already had. Patrick Gabriel, superintendent of the Germantown Central School District, said that the arts enrichment programs in his district “originate from the classroom up” rather than from the administration down. “I don’t know where we would be with arts and humanities without the foundation,” he said.

Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which serves Columbia County and northeast Dutchess County, Berkshire County, Mass., and northwest Litchfield County, Conn., is a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. Its offices are in Sheffield, MA, 413 229-0730. Its website is www.berkshiretaconic.org.

To contact Parry Teasdale email pteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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