LITTLE FALLS -- Several visiting professional artists arrived in Little Falls over the weekend to usher in a new wave of arts-related opportunities for area young people.
On Monday the artists kicked off the first in a seemingly endless series of workshops that by summer's end will have attracted as many as a thousand elementary-aged children in six central Minnesota communities.
It's all part of the PEAK program -- Prevention and Education through the Arts for Kids -- developed and sponsored for the first time this summer by the Great River Arts Association, a Little Falls-based nonprofit organization.
The program is modeled after the "40 building blocks to healthy communities" strategy developed by the Research Institute of Minneapolis, which suggests "exposure to the arts is the asset most lacking in our children."
Based on the premise that more is better in developing healthy minds, PEAK will offer a steady diet of arts-related courses throughout the summer to children in Little Falls, Pierz, Randall, Upsala, Royalton and Swanville. Free of charge.
Five of the 15 artists hired for the program inaugurated their individually designed workshops this week, and the rest will rotate into the area as the summer progresses.
Some will stay with PEAK for just a week or two while others have been retained for most of the program, offering a variety of courses in numerous disciplines.
All are professionally trained and most have significant classroom experience at a university level, said William Adkins, GRAA executive director who developed the plan and recruited the artists.
"I have worked with many of them in the past," said Adkins, who developed a similar program earlier in his career as an arts educator and administrator.
"But I didn't have to rely on that because of my connections to the art community and knowing where to go," he said. Many were recruited during a recent College Art Association national conference.
Parent volunteers also participated in the PEAK workshops, including Linda Farrell of Royalton, who worked with son, Noah, during a puppet-making class Tuesday at Royalton Elementary School. Children ages 7-12 from six central Minnesota towns are eligible for the summer art program. Also pictured were Miranda Ylinen (left), Curtis Makela and John Farrell, all of Royalton.
The artists receive a stipend of $20-$25 per classroom hour, plus living accommodations in Little Falls and studio space at the GRAA's partially renovated downtown headquarters, he said.
PEAK marks a major new direction for GRAA, inaugurating the group's latest emphasis on visual and literary arts as opposed to performing arts, he said.
GRAA was founded more than a decade ago to administer, raise funds and promote other area arts groups, including Heartland Symphony Orchestra, Hole in the Day Players and other performance troupes.
Over time, GRAA also developed its own on-stage events, including a house concerts series and an annual performing arts season.
Hired late last fall, Adkins brought considerable visual arts experience to the task, an area of expertise favored by the GRAA board, he said.
"The board felt that visual arts opportunities were most lacking, an area that had the biggest need," he said, which accounts in part for the organization's decision to launch the summer PEAK program.
GRAA raised an estimated $40,000 in donations from businesses, foundations and individuals to underwrite this summer's workshops, Adkins said.
More than 400 children ages 7-12 signed up for the courses during pre-registration while schools were still in session, and hundreds more are expected to enroll before summer's end, he said.
Adkins said GRAA expected about 1,000 kids to participate this year, although the response during pre-registration was less than expected. Some classes have reached a maximum of 12-15 students but several others in each of the participating towns have openings, he said.
For more information, contact GRAA at (320) 632-0960.
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