In a time when schools across the country are increasingly cutting funding for fine arts classes, Dancing Spirits Community Arts Center in Ignacio offers children the chance to get their hands dirty and be creative.
“It’s just really a way for them to be engaged and develop their brains through art and music,” said director Kasey Correla. “Expression is really important for children, and we’re seeing it less and less in schools.”
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 95 percent of U.S. students attend schools that slashed arts programs since the 2008 recession.
Those cuts, many supporters of art programs in schools say, removes the academic benefits of arts education, which include helping at-risk students, improving standardized test scores and reducing dropout prevention.
“Arts education gives children a place where they can express themselves and channel negative emotion into something positive,” Barbara Benglian, Pennsylvania’s 2006 teacher of the year, told The Washington Post.
“Students are well-rounded and required to be academically healthy in all subjects to perform. To be honest, what is learned in music education is truly immeasurable.”
Calls to Durango School District 9-R and Ignacio School District were not returned Wednesday, so local arts budgets were not available.
As schools offer fewer art programs, that’s where a smaller nonprofit such as Dancing Spirits can step in and reactivate the right side of the brain, Correla said.
Dancing Spirits began as a cooperative art space in spring 2010, but over the years, Correla said, demand increased for the small group of artists to teach around the area.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded a grant for therapeutic art funding to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, which in turn contracted the organizers at Dancing Spirits.
The after-school program – “Building Bridges Through Art” – launched in winter 2014, and now takes in eight to 22 children from the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy, as well as the Southern Ute Boys and Girls Club.
Students can partake in a range of multi-media arts, including clay, painting, glasswork, dance and, more recently, yoga.
Correla said small things, such as a student pounding excessively on a piece of clay, could be an indicator that there’s something wrong at home. Delicately, Correla will talk to the student, with the hopes they’ll open up and redirect that energy toward a positive solution.
“I try to draw them out,” Correla said. “We want to give them a safe environment to create from that emotion, and then give them the tools to deal with that emotion.”
Tim Murphy, a Dancing Spirits teacher, said over the years, he’s seen students who may be suffering depression, anxiety or any range of issues, slowly improve and be able to talk.
“It’s amazing to see,” Murphy said. “The kids really benefit, especially when they have something like this to do. If you’re not in sports, where are you after school?”
Dancing Spirits has extended its reach outside to the community, embarking on a number of projects to add public art to downtown Ignacio.
“They just love to see their art throughout town,” Murphy said. “It’s empowering.”
Dancing Spirits recently moved into what’s known as the ELHI Community Center in downtown Ignacio, which was the town’s former elementary school and then temporary high school while a new building was constructed.
Now, seven nonprofits occupy the 46,000-square-foot space, and soon there will be 10, Correla said. For Correla, the space represents the potential the community has to give back.
“We have dreams,” she said. “Dreams of a lot of collaboration here.”