Kids around Clark County are exploring their creative side with the Enspire Arts program. Founded by Sarah Lightfoot in 2017, the non-profit organization was birthed from an idea to develop a program that would intentionally use arts experiences in a way that engages and empowers youth, while focusing on their social and emotional wellness.
Sarah has more than 20 years of experience as a freelance pianist, accompanist and private teacher. After completing her music degree in Michigan and studying abroad in Austria and London, she and her family moved to Clark County in 2007. She began researching how the arts can support the mind, body, and spirit. While completing a creative training with Partners for Youth Empowerment, the idea came to her to develop her own organization. “I have a strong interest in neuroscience and how the arts make an impact ‘behind the scenes’ in our internal world,” shares Sarah. Today, Enspire Arts has a 4-member board and a team of 10 volunteers that fulfill its mission.
After School Program
The organization offers an after-school arts exploration program that blends the arts with opportunities for students to self-reflect and grow personally. During each session, they combine at least three to four art forms. The group often starts with a rhythm activity. Then improvisation games are used to encourage students to take creative risks. After that, leader uses music or poetry to facilitate a discussion around topics like fears, emotions, hopes and dreams. Finally, participants create an art piece that reflects the discussion.
“Throughout our classes we weave a cycle of affirmation, welcoming each student into the space and affirming their value,” Sarah explains.
Enspire Arts also offers a unique Arts Ambassador Scholarship program for youth in grades 6 through 12, which awards students a $500 scholarship for them to use in their art form of choice. The scholarship winners are mentored by an Enspire Arts volunteer to create an arts-based community gift, which is then presented as a contribution to Clark County. In 2019, there were three scholarship winners, including Evelynn Chen, who plays five instruments. Her contribution to the community has included visits to local schools, where she offers a short presentation on her love of music with the hopes of igniting musical curiosity in other students. This year, the Arts Ambassadors anticipate reaching up to 150 Clark County residents.
Bringing Art to the Classroom
Enspire Arts also aims to equip teachers with art tools that establish meaningful connections with their students. To do this, the organization recently began providing teacher trainings and workshops. They recently participated in the Camas School District 1st Annual Equity Conference, where the team presented how the arts can create a more inclusive learning environment.
“Our programs equip teachers with tools to bring more arts experiences into the general classroom,” Sarah shares. “When carefully placed throughout the day, we can use arts experiences to engage our students, calm our classrooms, and even redirect behavior. Whenever we participate in arts activities there is a therapeutic effect. Incorporating more arts activities in the classroom not only supports learning engagement but can serve as self-care for teachers and students.”
Funding for the program comes primarily from individual donors and sponsors, but business partners also play a big role in organizational support. Community partners such as The Hough Foundation, Columbia Presbyterian Church, Zia Advisory, and Columbia Credit Union are just a few of the partnerships that Enspire Arts currently utilizes to keep their programs free of charge. “We are so incredibly grateful for our sponsors,” Sarah explains. “They are helping our dream come true of bringing life-changing arts experiences to the youth of Clark County.”
Enspire Arts has grown significantly since its official launch, but it still faces challenges as they look toward the future. “Being a young organization, we’re still learning how to balance growth with manpower,” Sarah says. “We’re currently looking to increase our board with members specializing in marketing and fundraising. Strategic planning is now our top priority to ensure that as we grow, we’ll have capacity to hire staff, recruit quality teaching artists and keep our programs affordable.”
No matter what, Enspire Arts continues to keep their vision of empowering kids through art at the forefront. “The world that our youth face today is dramatically different than the world we grew up in,” Sarah says. “We see struggles that we haven’t seen before and more than ever, our youth need us to get creative in making changes that lead them toward a positive future. Our dream is to be a valuable support to the schools of Clark County and grow arts programming that enlivens learning and reaches the heart of each and every student.”
To learn more about the Enspire Arts program, visit the Enspire Arts website.