Frederick Youth Arts Resilient in Pandemic

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When the pandemic caused the operation of school buildings shops, restaurants, theaters—and many extracurricular activities—to grind to a sudden halt, no one knew how long that hiatus would be.

Some businesses and organizations had a brief hiccup until mask wearing and sanitizing stations allowed them to reopen. For others, the break dragged on and on.

Many are still recovering from it—especially in the Frederick arts scene. And for kids and families, that means limited access to arts programs that have benefits beyond just artistic skill.

Art allows students to step away from what is stressful and gain perspective on who they are as individuals, says Vicki Clarkson, president of the Fredrick County Arts Association. “A lot of those students sort of grasp that’s their passion, or that’s their love, so it opens up a door for them to explore for their future.”

Without a foundation in art—or at least an awareness of their interests and talents—kids lose valuable time to build those skills.

Luckily, the arts scene has begun to rebound—with theatre projects by parenting groups, outreach to the county’s diverse underserved communities on the outskirts of town and recovery grants.

“I think people have been very creative and a little more assertive in making these opportunities available for the kids and youth in our area,”Clarkson says.

Clarkson’s own organization applied and recived a grant for the first time in its 44 years just so it could help others. Its first project? Honoring a teacher and her students at Thurmont Middle School who did portraits of cats for the volunteer-run Thurmont nonprofit Cuddles Cat Rescue.

Many local arts programs received a Create and Activate Now (C.A.N.) Recovery Award grant from the Frederick Arts Council—allocated specifically for those affected by COVID-19 and in need of support— last year, and have already made strides since the shutdowns in March 2020.

In January, the FAC announced it will also receive an American Rescue Plan grant from Frederick County to distribute to individual artists to aid in pandemic recovery.

We caught up with three of last year’s CAN recipients to see where they are now.

Frederick Regional Youth Orchestra

With five ensembles and students in groups based on skill versus age, the Frederick Regional Youth Orchestra provides supplemental music education for public and homeschooled students in the Frederick area.

The cost of recording students individually on Zoom (to edit into one group performance) was $1,200 per performance, and low enrollment meant limited funding. FRYO’s enrollment is still down 30%.

Since receiving funding, program perks such as coaches, ringers who can fill in empty orchestra seats, soloists and special performances have begun to come back.

But more is still needed.

Frederick Youth Orchestra | Provided Photo

“Every bit we get makes a difference on what we can add. Its $2,500 to book the Weinburg [Performing Arts Center],” says Orchestra Manager Kim Peltzer.

Though not all students will make a career out of music, participating in an orchestra at a young age will provide them valuable math, social and life skills, as well as a musical skill they can cultivate. “We want these kids to be able to take this and enjoy this for a lifetime,” Peltzer says.

The Academy for the Fine Arts

Frederick County Public School students have access to college and career pathways in the arts, thanks to this program for grades 10-12. Its areas of focus include art, dance, music, musical theatre and theatre.

During the pandemic, it had no in-person collaboration, a key contributor to thriving in the arts, but with relief funds, the academy will be able to update dance and music tech labs, purchase art display panels and a new photo printer, and connect students with resident artists.

The goal is for the program to reach more students and add focus areas such as digital art, creative writing, cinematography and fashion design and production with the help of community partnerships that could support its physical expansion as well.

“We have noticed the toll COVID took on students’ social and emotional health and are happy to provide a safe outlet for students to express their emotions and learn more about themselves,” says Program Coordinator Jonathan Kurtz.

“Funding the next generation of arts serves as a pipeline to keep our arts community thriving. Arts organization are all on the same team and need to work together,” Kurtz says.

Frederick Children’s Chorus

FCC’s Little Music Makers (ages 3-8) are introduced to the basics of music through singing, dancing, games, instruments and rhythmic movement, and its Performance Chorus (ages 8-18) can reach four levels of mastery.

A loss of revenues from concerts and tuition made pandemic recovery difficult.

“Arts organizations everywhere are discovering that ‘a return to normal’ is simply not feasible, because many external factors have since changed. For example, our rent is higher now, due to the need for larger spaces for social distancing,” noted Conductor and Artistic Director Judy DuBose in her grant application.

DuBose hoped to use funding on building enrollment and increasing pay for staff—many of whom had been voluntarily working some days for free.

The chorus has since been able to bring back community performances and its virtual offerings now include video production for students—a great resume skill.

The music education students receive goes beyond art—with application in social skills, math, language, and fine and gross motor skills for young learners.