gamut (2007-48)

No Artist Left Behind

Micah Goss

Mario Goss and Sarah Pirkle

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. â" Pablo Picasso

At Community School of the Arts, self-expression isnâ’t a privilege. Itâ’s a right.

by Leslie Wylie photos by Jennifer Willard

Sixth-grader Madison Craddock bites her lip as she studies the cluttered grid of lines and dots in front of her. Itâ’s a composition called â“The Snake Charmer,â” and uncoordinated pianists need not apply. As the right hand navigates a tricky Middle Eastern-flavored melody, the left hand pounds out a steady stream of melodic fifths in three-quarter time. Further mucking things up are the myriad dynamic commandsâ"crescendos colliding with diminuendos, pianissimos butting heads with mezzo fortes.

Craddock takes a deep breath and timidly presses down on the keys. Plink, plink-plink-plink, plink-plink-plinkâ

â“Whoa, wait, stop,â” her teacher, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra principal keyboardist Carol Zinavage, interrupts. Craddock pauses and looks up expectantly.

â“Your snake sounds sick,â” Zinavage continues. â“Thatâ’s supposed to be forte. I want you to rattle the windows with that first chord. Really land on it.â”

Craddock nods, returning her attention to the task at hand with a renewed sense of determination. Thunk, thunk-thunk-thunk, thunk-thunkâ

As the songâ’s final note evaporates into silence, Zinavage nods in approval. â“Much better,â” she says, eliciting a bashful smile from her student. Craddock, like several of the young artists at Community School of the Arts (CSA), is still learning to trust herself and her abilities. Hailing from hard-knock neighborhoods and families who might not otherwise be able to afford private music lessons, theyâ’ve found their way here, to a support system of professional artists whoâ’ll nurse their budding talents.

With a little coaxing from Zinavage, Craddockâ’s crescendos are growing louder with every passing day. â“This is the year you learn to be really bold,â” says her teacher, flipping the page to the next song.

Today, with frigid November rain coming down in sheets outside the window, First Presbyterian Churchâ’s two-century-old expanses feel particularly warm and cocoon-like. Strains of violin waft down the hall, thereâ’s a pot of coffee on somewhere, and CSA Executive Director Jennifer Willardâ’s spirits are anything but damp.

â“After 15 years, weâ’re still a kind of best-kept secret,â” she explains, seated behind her desk. Itâ’s true: CSAâ’s long-running operation on the edge of downtown Knoxville is a quiet one that doesnâ’t often seek press or recognition. â“But weâ’ve got such a strong track record,â” Willard continues, â“itâ’s a shame to keep it under wraps.â”

There are presently 178 grade school-aged children enrolled in CSAâ’s non-profit after-school program, which offers instruction in the visual and performing arts to the communityâ’s youth. The idea is to give them access to as many forms of self-expression as possibleâ"be it painting, a drum set, or modern danceâ"in the hopes that theyâ’ll develop a creative skill-set that they can feel proud of. Periodically, they have the opportunity to show their talents off, by way of a concert at the church, a performance on WDVXâ’s Blue Plate Special, or CSAâ’s annual art exhibition/auction at Bennett Galleries. Through the end of this month, CSA studentsâ’ work is on display at Blount Mansion.

Most of the students hail from East Knoxville, although Willard says that zoning and the presence of magnet schools make it difficult to tie them to any area or socio-economic demographic in particular. The only qualifications for enrollment are demonstrated financial need, transportation to and from the school, and, most importantly, a willingness to be there. â“We have so little turnover, thereâ’s a real family atmosphere,â” Willard says. â“Thereâ’s a sense of belonging, of community.â”

The classes are taught by accomplished, professional artistsâ"an art teacher who rushes to CSA after school, for instance, or a member of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra who squeezes in a private lesson before evening rehearsalâ"people who are drawn to CSA because they care about the program and the difference itâ’s making in the lives of area young people. â“I canâ’t speak highly enough of our faculty,â” Willard says. â“We pay them less than they would make working out of a private studio, which just goes to show their level of heart, patience, and commitment.â”

Students are encouraged to try every last one of CSAâ’s course offerings on for size; most of them are studying at least two disciplines simultaneously. Sometimes, though, one art form in particular just fits.

For CSA graduate Brittany Rogers, that was visual artâ"photography and pottery in particular. She quickly gravitated toward an apprenticeship with local ceramics guru Peter Rose, through CSAâ’s Side-By-Side mentorship program. Although students were encouraged to work with multiple mentors, Rogers wound up apprenticing for Rose for four years, eventually earning a summer job as studio assistant to Judy Brater-Rose, Peterâ’s wife.

Rose recalls that when Rogers first began working with him, she was very quiet and shy. But as she found her niche at the studio, she started coming out of her shell.

â“Thereâ’s something about her,â” Peter Rose says. â“Sheâ’s quite specialâ. She had this sparkle, this attitude. We knew she was really bright but she didnâ’t have anyone pushing her.â”

Today, Rogers is in her last year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where sheâ’s earning a business degree. â“Iâ’d like to open an art gallery someday,â” she says, adding with a laugh. â“I definitely want to stay involved in art, but I donâ’t want to be a starving artist, you know?â”

Though Willard is proud of CSAâ’s graduates, many of whom have gone on to earn college degrees and some of whom, like Rogers, are even pursuing careers in the arts, sheâ’s hesitant to pat herself on the back for their success. â“It takes the proverbial village,â” she says, acknowledging the importance of parental support. â“Weâ’d like to think that we change kidsâ’ lives, we hope thatâ’s the truth, but we donâ’t really know what weâ’ve accomplished until theyâ’re young adults, out on their own, making decisions for themselves.â”

By that criteria, Charles Myers qualifies as living proof of the impact CSA can have on its enrolleesâ’ lives. Two weekends ago, the CSA graduate received his associateâ’s degree from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. Willard, who attended his graduation in New York City, still remembers the day he first walked through the door as a fifth-grader, on CSAâ’s first day of operation, Sept. 15, 1992.

â“I lived in Austin homes [a now defunct East Knoxville housing project], and it was just drugs and everything,â” Myers recalls. â“The school was a place to get away, experience these different things, meet artists I would never have met otherwise.â”

Myers took visual art and piano classes for a while but didnâ’t really click with any one activity until CSA hosted a culinary arts camp with the accomplished local chef Bruce Bogart. â“From that point on, I had it in the back of my head that I really wanted to cook one day professionally,â” Myers says.

He went on to earn a degree from Carson-Newman while working to support himself at Chesapeakeâ’s and Riverside Tavern. Post-graduation, a chef he worked with encouraged him to pursue his culinary dreams to the fullest extent possible, by attending the Culinary Institute of America. The only roadblock: a $60,000 tuition. â“There was no way I could afford that,â” Myers says.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. â" Pablo Picasso

Thatâ’s when CSA, with whom Myers had maintained contact, came to the rescue, giving him a $10,000 check he could put toward his education. So, Myers says, the school really made his dream career possible on two levels: â“One, if it hadnâ’t been for Community School of the Arts, I would never have even thought about cooking professionally. Two, thereâ’s no way I could have attended the Culinary Institute of America without the schoolâ’s support.â”

For the past two summers, Myers has been doing his best to give back to the school thatâ’s given him so much, teaching culinary arts classes there during the summer. Last summer, he and eight students made cheesecake, homemade pasta, and filleted fish. â“Iâ’ve always said that every summer, no matter where I end up, Iâ’m going to try to come back to the school and teachâ"if not for a full week or two, at least for two or three days,â” he says. â“Itâ’s such a great program, as far as exposing not just inner-city kids but kids in general to the arts.â”

Thinking back to his own youth in a less-than-savory housing project, Myers is grateful that CSA staged an intervention. â“My whole mindset changed,â” he says. â“When all you see is your everyday surroundings, you start to think thatâ’s all there is. The school opened my eyes to different parts of the world.â”

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