Photo by Joe Rubino, via Baltimore School for the Arts

The Baltimore School for the Arts will get a vital funding boost for its 35-year-old TWIGS program, which provides free dance, singing, music, theater and visual arts instruction to city students.

The additional $20,000 for TWIGS, which serves 700 second-through-eighth graders from more than 60 public schools in Baltimore each year, will come from a federal Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The agency received 1,728 Art Works applications and is handing out just over 1,000 awards ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 in value in its latest round of grants.

This marks the first time that BSA has been picked for this specific grant, according to Chris Ford, the school’s director.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” he said in a statement. “More importantly, it enables us to be able to serve more of Baltimore’s children, who might not have access to arts opportunities otherwise.”

Photo by Joe Rubino, via Baltimore School for the Arts

TWIGS has been around since 1982. Students audition for the program every spring. Those who get in receive instruction from professional artists and teachers in weekday extracurricular activities and on Saturdays. Each class is developed by education specialists and experienced artists.

It’s understandably competitive; between 30 and 35 percent of incoming BSA freshman each year have been trained through TWIGS, according to the school’s website, making it something of a talent funnel for the prestigious high school.

The monetary boost comes at a time when local and federal arts education funding is threatened or in limited supply. Stephanie Jayakanthan, a spokeswoman for the school, said fiscal 2018 budget cuts for Baltimore City Public Schools created a $35,000 deficit for TWIGS that the school has been trying to fill through private donations. The $20,000 will help to address that shortage, she said.

While this grant money will come from the National Endowment for the Arts’ fiscal 2017 budget, arts education advocates are wondering if any of that pool will exist next year. President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed eliminating the agency entirely, though Congress’ budget proposal would preserve its funding.

The Art Works grant will also help to support HelloTWIGS!, a new component of the program in which the school buses students from areas of the city with low levels of student enrollment at BSA or participation in TWIGS. The buses will bring about 70 students from four schools — Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School, Armistead Gardens, Lakeland Elementary/Middle and Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School – to take classes at the high school every Saturday. BSA also will provide each student with a healthy lunch.

“We really want to be available to every community in Baltimore,” Jayakanthan said of HelloTWIGS! “We noticed that certain neighborhoods weren’t being represented in TWIGS or the high school.”

The benefit of the Arts Works grant is twofold. In addition to providing money, the National Endowment for the Arts gives each recipient a seal of approval that helps to attract additional funding from public and private sources.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...