North State Arts Are Alive and Well


am often surprised to hear that some people in our North State community believe the majority of schools have eliminated important curricula, including visual and performance arts. Certainly there have been cutbacks over the years to art programs in our schools, but thanks to dedicated teachers and concerned community members, the arts in schools are going strong. Parents, students and others are championing the arts through ongoing fundraising efforts and hands-on support, and their determination to keep the arts alive is inspiring.

Creating and Giving Back

art-0117-arts3Shasta High School ceramic arts teacher Jon Mehr agrees that our community needs to know that the arts are alive and well in the North State. “It’s no surprise that Californians value the arts and encourage kids to participate,” Mehr says. “In our Shasta Union High School District, there is a requirement to have one year of visual or performance art, plus each high school student needs to take electives, such as ceramics.”

Mehr is happy to report that the high school’s staff includes three art teachers who offer many different art courses to beginner through experienced artists.

“Shasta High School is fortunate to have the biggest ceramics program in the district,” Mehr says. “We are very excited to be able to use the old ceramics studio at Shasta College for our classes, giving high school students the opportunity to create in a college-level studio.”

The after-school program, The Mad Mudders Club, typically has at least 30 students involved. In order to help pay for supplies for so many participants, each student must create two ceramic wall-hanging fish for their club’s fundraiser. Mehr says they typically receive between $1,000 and $2,000 from ceramic fish sales each school year. He takes pride in reporting that they give back to the community by donating some of the proceeds to a Redding community program in need. This year The Mad Mudders donated to the Shasta Senior Nutrition Program. In previous years, the club has donated to One Safe Place. The ceramic fish are for sale in a permanent display in the Museum Store at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, and Mehr hopes to have more available at the Whole Earth and Watershed Festival this spring.

Perform and Compete

art-0117-arts2When Lisa Winters came to Boulder Creek Elementary School in Redding as a science teacher, she was determined to develop the Unstoppable Dance Crew. She has always been passionate about dance, and three years ago she became the coach for the 6th through 8th grade co-ed, hip-hop dance team. “Dance Crew has taught these kids valuable life lessons,” says Winters. “We are more like family than a school club.” The benefits of being a part of this crew go well beyond just the physical exercise, helping kids socially and creating discipline for academics.

Winters, along with many of the parents, has noticed huge boosts of confidence in the members of the crew as they meet weekly for a common goal. “These kids are less susceptible to bullying and they have worked hard together, coming from all walks of life and different social groups.” To be a part of the Unstoppable Dance Crew students must maintain their grades. A failing grade on a report card can result in dismissal from the team.

Tryouts are held twice a year, and the few students who don’t make the team are given advice on how to work on their skills and are encouraged to try out again. This year is their largest team, with 21 dancers.

The costumes and competitions are expenses that each student and their family must pay for. “Every student needs to sign a contract at the start of the school year committing to raise the funds to be in the crew,” says Winters. “This gives them great life skills learning how to participate in fundraising and writing support letters requesting financial donations.” With the booster club’s support, the team sells items at a snackbar during school events. The proceeds are used to help finance the dance team’s expenses.

The Unstoppable Dance Crew has performed at many local events, but Winters believes the kids are also benefiting from competing as a team. She has worked very hard to find competitions for the students. A few times a year the crew participates in weekend workshops to learn two to five dance routines. When their budget allows, they hire a professional choreographer to train and inspire them.

During their first year of competing they won first place in the Street Dance USA competition in Anaheim. Since then the team has won fourth place at a larger venue with a more advanced level of performers. This year the Unstoppable Dance Crew tied for second place in the Redding Lighted Christmas Parade.

All 21 team members will get to perform at Disneyland in February doing a full 20-minute routine. One of the many benefits of participating in that event is that they receive backstage access to the Disney Cast Member Studio. They are invited to take a hip-hop workshop where a professional teaches them how to dance with the enthusiasm and energy of performing “Disney style.” Part of the Southern California trip includes a competition nearby where they will perform their best three-minute routine.

The commitment and determination of this dance crew is unstoppable.

Boost and Support

Pennie Baxter, art teacher and founder of Arts for All Visual and Performing Arts Booster in Chico, says she wishes more people knew how active Chico’s school children are in all of the arts. Students are contributing through performance-based productions and are creating many visual art displays, as well as offering artistic events to the community.

Baxter reminds us that it “takes a village” to raise an artist. “Awareness is key for the public to know that visual and performing arts in schools are in full bloom, continuing to have a positive impact on child development and academic skills,” Baxter says.

Arts for All is a community voice for the arts, and it’s purpose is to raise awareness and funding to support Chico Unified School District (CUSD) visual and performing arts education. The program has given more than 150 grants to eighteen different schools in favor of the arts, impacting more than 12,000 students.

Kim Kurnizki, president of Arts for All, is dedicated to bring all CUSD students, teachers, parents and administrators, along with the Chico arts community, together in support of quality, accessible and equitable arts education. Arts for All awards mini-grants to benefit children in Kindergarten through 12th grade. Teachers can apply for the additional funds they may need for special projects or items they require to enrich their curriculum.

“Pennie is our faculty advisor, and we have an independent committee of community members that decide which requests get funded,” Kurnizki says.

Arts for All has helped in a variety of ways. Their mini-grants have funded musical instruments, theater productions, student poetry books, fine art supplies, ceramic and woven art materials, sheet music, equipment and tools, as well as instructional supplies. They have also contributed to the Chapman School Mosaic Mural, a large-scale, multi-year project that students and retired teachers created on a wall outside of the school library in Chico.

Baxter and Kurnizki agree that Chico’s dynamic art community goes above and beyond to keep art alive for the kids. Parents have taken notice of students’ improvement and excitement through participation in art education. Coordinators at Arts for All are hoping for more attendance at monthly planning meetings, and are seeking more people to join their board of directors.

If you feel called to be a voice for the arts, there are many ways to help in a variety of areas: leadership, advisory, fundraising, events, raising awareness, membership and hospitality. Anyone can make a contribution or become a member. For more information visit, or contact Kim Kurnizki at (530) 343-1462.   

Be sure to check North State Parent magazine’s Going Places family events calendar to see what fun, artistic activities are happening this month!  

Tami Graham
About Tami Graham

Tami Graham is grateful for all of the past struggles of her life because they have made her who she is today: an optimistic soul, full of compassion. Being a mother has been her hardest and most rewarding job, and her children have been her greatest teachers.

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