The artistic talent that’s being nurtured in Miami and providing a never-ending stream of arts professionals is due in strong part to the many year-round and summer programs at various arts venues. In this blog post we speak with a trio of leaders from these programs to learn how their programs have grown and the talent they’ve produced:
Miami Theater Center Camp Director Art Garcia, Thomas Armour Youth Ballet Executive Director Ruth Wiesen, and Rebekah Diaz-Fandrei, founder of Youth Arts Learning Academy and director of Education and Community Engagement at Florida Grand Opera.
Artburst: Tell us about your summer camp and year-round programs.
Art Garcia: The MTC Musical Theatre Summer camp is a summer program where we have local artists, performers, designers, musicians, and choreographers, who have been through training at MTC help campers develop their own musical over a three-week span. The students work with the teaching artist to create a play that they perform in a showcase for friends and family at the end of the camp. It began almost 10 years ago, as the brain child of Stephanie Ansin -- our [former] artistic director -- and some of her resident actors at the time, wanting to provide a creative safe space that nurtures and includes children of all differing abilities and skills to promote the love of performance and the live arts.
Students at Thomas Armour Youth Ballet Studio. Photo courtesy of Thomas Armour Youth
Ruth Wiesen: Thirty years ago New World School of the Arts opened its doors, and from our perspective we thought this would be great. Miami is one of the only cities in the country with elementary school magnet programs. It came down to money. Even though kids went to the magnet program during the day, those kids that went to programs after school had the edge. That’s when I went to Thomas Armour about bringing in kids to fill open spaces, particularly ones that couldn’t afford it.
Rebekah Diaz-Fandrie: Youth Artists Learning Academy is in its second season at Florida Grand Opera. It started two years ago when I got to Florida Grand Opera. I knew these high school kids needed that extra push before they went on to college, so I wanted to create a program for this group that was going to give them what they needed when they left Miami. The focus is on having all the teachers be professionals including opera singers, performers, costuming, etc… Program participants get a full day of programming where they are working with master teachers and technicians who help them craft who they’re going to be when they get out there. Some of the kids starting out are diamonds in the rough, they’re eloquent but haven’t had the exposure or the voice lessons. It’s really fun too, the kids have a great time, they’re all wonderful.
Artburst: How have the programs expanded over the years?
Garcia: Over the years we have streamlined certain aspects. We added the design program, where the kids get to design their characters and it gives less extroverted children another outlet. It also emphasizes that there is more to theater than simply performance. We are also working on expanding to include a program for older tweens and teens, but that's still a work in progress.
Participants at Miami Theater Center Camp. Photo courtesy of MTC
Wiesen: After running the program a while, we realized we had to go into the neighborhoods because children couldn’t get to us; so we started our satellite sites in Perrine, Miami Gardens, Little Haiti, and West Coconut Grove.
Fast forward a few decades, we realized the classes were giving us better results than we expected, kids were going on to college including to New World School of the Arts. They were also developing life skills as well, like attention to detail, learning to think outside the box, and the art of delayed gratification. By putting in the work every day they realize that’s what it takes to be successful. We’re teaching it takes 10 years to truly learn their craft and be successful.
Next, we realized there were kids who had factors limiting their academic success, especially Haitian immigrants who didn’t speak English. They were getting into high school but were struggling, so in 2015 the Children’s Trust tasked us with adding an academic component to our grant. Now aside from dance classes, the students receive homework skills with a focus on math and reading. We realize this will help close the academic gap that these kids have.
Diaz-Fandrie: This year we have partnered with the Pompano Beach Cultural Arts Center to repeat the showcase they do in their black box in Doral during the summer up there, giving them another chance at performing in front of a live audience.
We have already expanded to three weeks from two and now have college kids interested in coming to work with the master teachers. I see us reaching more and more kids. Last year we had 17 or 18 in the program, but as of now have 20 applicants. A big draw is to make the contact with people who are going to eventually be casting them. And of course, we always hope to receive more grant money to give more scholarships to help in getting more kids to come.
Artburst: Tell us about your success stories.
Garcia: Many of our students have gone on to audition and be accepted into Miami Arts Charter, New World School of the Arts, or have continued to participate in theater at their local schools.
I feel that our camp has always prided itself on being the first stepping stone for many students. I've seen total wall flowers bloom into social butterflies, and kids from special populations get the chance to perform and feel included. Most of all I feel that through making the campers create, write, design, and perform in their own show engenders a love of theater, a collaborative spirit, and responsibility to the craft and to their fellow ensemble members.
Participants in Florida Grand Opera's YALA Program rehearse with a master teacher.
Photo courtesy of Florida Grand Opera.
Wiesen: For those kids who are the first ones going to college in their families, we have them work with a mentor/coach to help with any weaknesses, strengthen
those, assist with the application process and with their college entrance exams. Some of those students have gone on to New York University, Carnegie
Mellon, DePaul University, and to perform with Alvin Ailey Dance and the San Francisco Ballet, to name but a few.
Diaz-Fandrie: We have one young girl who is heading off to Yale, she was with us last year. There are kids that go off to FIU, and others that have been accepted to prestigious schools but choose to stay home. Some of them have gone on to FSU, which has a very good music program. A lot of kids have gotten into Carnegie Mellon.
One of our young ladies who was Miss Teen Florida went into Opera Aria and the program helped push her through. As a result Slowburn Theater has hired her to perform.
These are just a few of the summer programs offered around Miami-Dade, there are numerous other arts venues offering specific arts-based programs that just like these, are nurturing the future of the arts.