ArtsBridge continues connecting families with art and culture

As parents continue to search for kid-friendly educational entertainment options, AT&T Performing Arts Center’s ArtsBridge – Powered by Toyota has helped fill the need by reimagining its classes, workshops and more. And it’s gearing up for another season.

Last fall, ArtsBridge connected West Dallas children with Broadway actors via Broadway for Kids. The Saturday virtual classes included high-energy dance and fun singalongs hosted in conjunction with Voice of Hope Ministries. “Our kids are ready to learn and dance again,” says one parent whose child attended the classes. “We truly appreciate this kind of activity where the kids are able to learn, explore new abilities and relax from their routine.”

During the pandemic, ArtsBridge programming pivoted to smaller, more intimate arts experiences, outdoor performances in large spaces and workshops hosted in person or virtually. Additionally, AT&T PAC staff members are ready to reschedule events if needed to ensure the safety of all participants.

“Our team is resourceful and can turn on a dime,” says Debbie Storey, president and CEO. And it goes beyond the arts. During the recent freeze and power outages, the area’s city council member called needing nonelectric lights. “Within a few hours we found and provided more than 100 battery- and solar-powered lamps that were distributed free at city warming centers. No matter the challenge, we continue serving our community.”

Toyota has been critical to ArtsBridge’s success and its partnership with AT&T PAC has exceeded expectations because of the priority for the program to be community-informed and collaborative and to deliver high-quality programming. This partnership, launched in 2018, provides cultural experiences in both West Dallas and on AT&T PAC’s stages in the Arts District. It starts with extensive outreach and respectful listening to understand what residents and neighborhoods want and need, then working with artists to craft authentic engagement opportunities.

Artist Desireé Veniecia painted an ArtsBridge mural called “Black Beauty Is an Act of Resistance” in West Dallas.
Artist Desireé Veniecia painted an ArtsBridge mural called “Black Beauty Is an Act of Resistance” in West Dallas.(Autumn Garrison)

“ArtsBridge’s success rests on the authentic and impactful relationships we have built over the past three years with the West Dallas community,” says Storey. “Even now, we’ve been able to keep those ties strong and continue working together to create and deliver unique arts experiences.”

One ArtsBridge program last fall included commissioning J.L. Long Middle School teacher Desirée Vaniecia to work alongside other artists during the annual Wild West Mural Fest. Vaniecia’s mural, “Black Beauty Is an Act of Resistance,” conveyed the artist’s reflection on social unrest in the United States in 2020.

Vaniecia and other participating artists will host a discussion about their projects this spring as a part of ArtsBridge’s Community Conversations on Social Justice. “This program is so unique,” says Storey. “Research shows that cultural experiences help people deal with stress and manage anxiety and depression, and we want to provide a forum for conversations about social justice issues. Desiree’s mural is a reminder of that in West Dallas.”

Currently, ArtsBridge has several programs in progress at the school Sidney Lanier Expressive Arts Vanguard, including virtual dance classes hosted by guest instructors, private coaching sessions for applicants to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and a hip-hop residency with master teaching artist Paige Hernandez.

Specializing in hip-hop and creative play, Hernandez is a multidisciplinary artist from Baltimore who integrates trauma-informed practice techniques into her teaching style. Her six-week virtual teaching residency includes 120 students in grades four through eight and teaches the basics of hip-hop dance. Hernandez’s instruction also includes self-care and creative play techniques, essential tools during the pandemic.

Hip-hop instrumentalist duo Black Violin and students from Sidney Lanier Expressive Arts Vanguard share the stage at Strauss Square in downtown Dallas.

“Her trauma-informed practice is extremely important this year, because so many students are struggling with the stress of the pandemic and how it’s changed their lives,” says Autumn Garrison, director of education and community engagement. “She’s focusing on self-care to help students learn how to cope with all of these emotions they’re experiencing right now.”

As 2021 unfolds, ArtsBridge will offer additional socially distanced programs to the West Dallas community, such as the Dallas Jazz Fest in June, a storytelling workshop series for older adults in late summer and a ukulele instruction series in July.

The latter will outfit summer campers at Anita Martinez Recreation Center, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dallas and Wesley Rankin Community Center with free ukuleles and provide six weeks of instruction. It will culminate in a family performance at AT&T PAC’s Strauss Square. Tickets and transportation to the show will be free for students and their families. “One of the obstacles that we hear over and over about is the prohibitive cost of music education for some students,” Garrison says. “We wanted to create a project to help bridge that gap.”

As AT&T PAC gears up for another busy season of safely providing arts education and experiences to the West Dallas community, there’s plenty of opportunity to get involved with ArtsBridge. Individuals and corporate sponsors can support the initiatives and help grow the program in North Texas. To learn more, contact AT&T PAC.

Angelia S. Rico

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