Sparking arts innovation

Kenan Institute targets change.

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. [04.13.04] — The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts is setting its sights on tapping the resources of the N.C. School of the Arts to spark change in the arts beyond the school’s Winston-Salem campus.

“We are trying to design programs that will further the goals and objectives of the N.C. School of the Arts in increasing its national and local and regional impact on shaping the arts,” says Margaret Mertz, who joined the institute last July as acting executive director after four years as the school’s academic dean.

Created in 1993 by the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund for the Arts, the institute has supported a range of initiatives at the school, including its A+ Schools program, a 10-year-old effort to integrate arts education throughout the curriculum at elementary and middle schools.

Administration of that program, now offered in 44 North Carolina schools and in schools in Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Dakotas, was transferred last summer to UNC-Greensboro.

Unlike the School of the Arts, UNCG trains teachers and can handle national expansion of the A+ program, says Richard Krasno, executive director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill and director of the Kenan Fund for the Arts.

“We felt we needed a teacher education system to take it on and make it national,” he says.

The Kenan Fund for the Arts, which was endowed by the Kenan Trust in 1992 with a gift of $20 million and has invested roughly $4 million in the A+ program, has agreed to provide another $350,000 this year and $200,000 next year, Krasno says.

The fund, which gives the institute roughly $1 million a year, also asked it last summer to “establish programs that are innovative, that have national implications for the arts, that have a broader reach than just enhancing the school,” he says.

Mertz, who joined the institute on the departure of Jeanne Butler after 10 years as executive director, says a number of initiatives are in the works.

The institute, for example, is looking for ways to “capitalize on the knowledge and talents of alumni” and plug them into school activities, such as identifying and meeting the needs of recent graduates trying to establish careers, and providing them with internships.

This August, in a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Southern Arts Federation in Atlanta, the school will host the National Arts Leadership Institute, a new effort to provide professional development for people taking on leadership roles in arts organizations that stage performances.

A longer-term project may be to invite Theater Nohgaku, a traditional Japanese-theater ensemble based in Tokyo and Pennsylvania, for a residency at the school, focusing on music, dance and mask work, says Mertz.

The institute also is exploring ways to bring to the school professionals who write about the arts, as well as artists who write.

Tapping the “talents and energy and creativity” of faculty, students, staff and alumni at the school, Mertz says, the institute wants to help it “show off to the rest of the world the kinds of things that can happen” in the arts that are “innovative, risk-taking, creative, entrepreneurial and visionary.”

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