YSU SMARTS celebrates 15th birthday

SMARTS 15th birthday

Kids from the YSU Students Motivated by the ARTS program line up for cake during a party/news conference to celebrate the program’s 15th birthday.

Youngstown State University’s award-winning program SMARTS―Students Motivated by the Arts, a community art school that has provided free quality arts education programming to thousands of youth throughout the tri-county region and early teaching opportunities to hundreds of YSU students, celebrated its 15th birthday today with cake, balloons, party hats and dozens of enthusiastic supporters, students, teachers and parents.

“SMARTS is a remarkable story about a vision to create a place where children and teen-agers could go to learn about visual arts, music, dance, theater and creative writing – a dream that over the course of 15 years has become a roaring success and a premier point of pride for the university and the entire community,” YSU President Cynthia E. Anderson said.

“SMARTS has a Cinderella story with an idea that started small and after 15 years our relevance in the community is greater than we could ever have imagined,” said Becky Keck, SMARTS director and one of the founders of the program. “We have touched the lives of thousands of students and their families from the community and hundreds of YSU students since 1997. Our hope for the future is that SMARTS will continue to be a shining example of university-community engagement for years to come.”

SMARTS, overseen by YSU’s Beeghly College of Education and the College of Fine and Performing Arts, offers an array of programs six days a week at its headquarters in the SMARTS Center in downtown Youngstown and at various sites throughout the region. In addition, the program gives vital early teaching and learning opportunities to dozens of YSU students who connect with SMARTS each year as teachers, interns, student assistants, volunteers or mentors.

SMARTS programming includes violin, piano and music theory classes for K-12 students in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. There’s a percussion-based learning program called SMARTS Beats for youth with multiple disabilities, and a SMARTS Songwriting class for teen-agers at a local residential adolescent drug and alcohol treatment facility. There are SMARTS brass lessons, mixed media visual arts classes and creative writing programs at the Mahoning County Salvation Army.  Students have created holiday greeting cards that are sold at the SMARTS store. The downtown headquarters has an art gallery space that has hosted a variety of exhibits. And there’s the SMARTS Rock Band, SMARTS Sings!, SMARTS Green Skies Blue Trees and the list goes on and on.

“The influence of SMARTS is wide and far-reaching,” said Bryan DePoy, dean of the YSU College of F&PA. “With budgets for arts programming being cut at several area school districts, many students get little or no arts education. That makes a program like SMARTS more important than ever.”

In its 15 years, SMARTS, which has raised more than $2 million in support, has received several regional and national honors and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the regional and statewide Ohio Art Education Association Distinguished Business/Organization for Art Education award and the Youth/Individual/Group Award from the Mahoning Valley Task Force on Crimes and Violence Prevention. SMARTS also has twice been named as one of the top 50 art afterschool programs in the country by the President’s Committee for Arts and Humanities (Coming Up Taller) and later this spring will receive the Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley Children’s Advocate Award.

To learn more about SMARTS, call 330-941-ARTS or visit www.fpa.ysu.edu/smarts.