Grants for school arts programs available through the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

Michigan K-12 schools are undergoing extreme stress at the moment. 

But then, stress is nothing new for Michigan’s schools, which have had revenues drop 30% in the first couple of decades of this century.  

When math, science, and other subjects are in need, priorities can drive arts education to rely on outside grants.

Local arts teachers are getting hit by all sorts of stress right now, says Kristen Chesak, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. So the Arts Council is happy to pass along grant funding for local arts teachers. 

Mandy Clearwaters is the head of the KPS art department.The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) is offering to pre-K-12 schools grants of $1,500 for arts equipment and supplies, and $500 for arts or culture-related field trips. 

The Arts Equipment and Bussing grants are available from ACGK now. The grant is available to schools in the ACGK area: Berrien, Branch, Cass, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Van Buren counties.  

There is no application deadline, so they will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. “As long as I have money, and our grant panel approves it, you’re getting a grant to bring some arts equipment into your classroom or get a bus so you can take students to cultural events,” Chesak says.

“We know that COVID is putting a damper on all of that, but hopefully as we get into 2021 and some of this opens back up, folks will take the opportunity to take a look at this grant and get some funding to do some things that they haven’t been able to do in the past.”

Arts education is vital in many ways

There may be a lot of stress, but there are also a lot of rewards in being an art teacher, Mandy Clearwaters says.

She’s in her tenth year of teaching art to K-8 students at Kalamazoo Public Schools. Clearwaters is the head of the KPS art department. 

“Truly, I love my job,” she says. “Continuously, as educators, we are problem-solving throughout the school day to do what is best for students. Not a single day looks the same and there is something special about that aspect. It keeps me on my toes, constantly learning, and improving.”

Clearwaters says that “arts are vital to a well-rounded education,” helping to “develop creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking skills, innovation skills, and a sense of community; many of which are key elements of 21st-century learning.  Beyond this, the arts can be healing, relaxing, inspiring, and provide a sense of identity. “ 

Her favorite part of the job “is building relationships with students. When a student walks into school and gives me a giant hug or a big smile, that is the sweet spot. Or if a student is having a bad day and they want to come to hang out in the art room to cool down because that is where they feel safe, there is something special about those moments too. Knowing that they are counting on me, keeps me motivated.“

From Gelli Arts to Kwik Sticks

Though “we receive a solid base budget for consumable art supplies in Kalamazoo Public Schools,” Clearwaters says they only cover traditional art supplies, like colored pencils, paint, and clay.

Two KPS art students taught by Mandy Clearwaters. "I love what they wrote," she says.“As an art teacher, I want to provide as many resources and exposure opportunities as possible to my students. In past years, I have written many grants to fund art projects or equipment that are more costly. Through these grants, I've been able to provide students with a more expansive tool kit in the fine arts. We've received funding for items such as Gelli Arts plates, encaustic Cray-pens, two iPads, and Kwik Stiks,” she says.

Clearwaters adds, “Furthermore, bussing is a large cost when taking students on field trips. In Kalamazoo, we have phenomenal art opportunities to offer students such as visiting the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center. My students are engaged when they enter a new art space, always curious and taking it all in. I usually rely on grants to cover some bussing costs for these adventures.”

The Arts Equipment and Bussing Grant “has the potential to expand our educational resources and benefit students for years to come,” she says.

Arts education also can include performance, Chesak adds. 

Well-rounded exposure to, and creation of, all art, from painting to theatre, “helps people connect with each other,” Chesak says. “I think it helps them understand concepts of empathy, and concepts of sympathy, understanding other people’s stories. When you look at performing arts, it’s about storytelling, and when you look at visual arts in some sense that’s about storytelling as well.”

Chesak says, “self-expression is tantamount to the human condition, and that if we were all able to express ourselves through arts and culture I’d think there’d be a lot less violence in the world and a lot more understanding.”

Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.