Six public school districts in Columbia County, New York are receiving awards totaling $300,000 from a local foundation to strengthen arts and humanities programs.
The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation recently announced that the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation is donating the money to the Arts and Humanities Funds for the Hudson, Chatham, Germantown, New Lebanon, Ichabod Crane and Taconic Hills Central School Districts.
The money is being awarded to celebrate Columbia County-based artist Ellsworth Kelly’s 90th birthday.
Jack Shear, Director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, said that each $50,000 grant is intended to build the permanent endowments of the Arts and Humanities Funds at each school district, but it’s up to the school to find ways to use the money.
"We don't want to have one-size-fits-all," said Shear.
The first Arts and Humanities Fund was started at the Chatham Central District a decade ago. Funding has since expanded to the five other Columbia County districts, and thanks to money from the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and matching endowments from community businesses and organizations, the districts have been able to afford new equipment, sponsor events, and take students on field trips.
Laura Cannamela, art department chair at Ichabod Crane Central School District, said that without grants made available through her district’s fund, it would be nearly impossible to afford some of the extracurricular activities focused in the arts.
"Some of the grants are for about $2,500 for things that we really couldn't have written into the budget given the [economic] climate that it is," said Cannamela.
Examples of field trips supported by Ichabod Crane’s Arts and Humanities Fund include trips to the Annual Portfolio Review Day at Sage College in Albany.
Maria Balli, a 12th grade student at Ichabod Crane, said she will be pursuing an arts education in college. Balli said that talking to college recruiters at the portfolio days helped strengthen her portfolio and boosted her chances of getting into the right school.
Jack Shear said that the gifts will help all of the districts in rural Columbia County strengthen arts education programs for their students. However, Shear said the goal isn’t necessarily to transform all students into artists.
"But we do want to have to the opportunity for kids especially in Columbia County, a rural county that doesn't have a lot of foundations, it doesn't have a lot of money coming into the school districts for extracurricular activities, especially extracurricular art activities. So we saw a real need and I think it's been working," said Shear.
Jennifer Dowley, president of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, said that the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation’s gift is of the “highest kind of generosity.”
"These $50,000 grants are in some ways have the most rocket fuel attached to them you can imagine," said Dowley. "They will go into each of the six Arts and Humanities Funds' endowments, and will be there in perpetuity generating funds every year for the arts and humanities projects that the schools themselves, with their committees of parents, teachers, business leaders, and what they choose to support in their schools."
Over the past 10 years, the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation has awarded $1.45 million towards the Arts and Humanities Funds at the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for Columbia County schools.