Tomorrow elementary and middle school students beginning free arts classes at Baltimore School for the Arts will be doing so for the 30th year. This year marks the anniversary of the school’s TWIGS program. TWIGS, an acronym for “To Work In Gaining Skills,” gives young aspiring artists who reside in Baltimore City classes in music, dance, visual arts, stage production and theatre taught by professionals.
Since its inception in 1982, the goal of this program has been two-fold: to reach underserved kids with free, high quality arts instruction, and to help students prepare to audition to the Baltimore School for the Arts. TWIGS, which began with just 50 dancers, serves 700+ young artists per year. Each January, about half of the eighth graders in the program gain admission to Baltimore School for the Arts.
“What hasbeen incredible about TWIGS,” says the program’s coordinator since 1995, Georgia King, “Is not only the joy of the children embracing the opportunity they’ve been given in the arts, but the enthusiasm of the community that continues to support us year in and year out.”
The TWIGS program is 80 percent funded by grants and gifts from individuals, foundations and corporations. Special endowment funds for TWIGS also provide critical, secure funding for the program each year. Just recently, the program received a $1 million pledge to the endowment from Mark and Patricia Joseph.
Currently, the TWIGS program runs for 20 weeks (October-April) and serves children from the 2nd-8th grade from more than 100 public and parochial schools across the city. Students, who must be residents of Baltimore City, qualify for TWIGS through an audition in April for the following year. Once admitted, and provided they meet attendance requirements, students are invited back each year. In each of the arts disciplines, TWIGS students have the opportunity to collaborate with their high school counterparts in “side-by-side” programs, including dancing in a yearly production of The Nutcracker. This year’s Nutcracker will be at The Lyric with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Many former TWIG students have come full circle and now teach in the program. BSA graduate and former TWIG, James Evans, now CEO and creative director of Illume Communications, says, “TWIGS for me was a dream come true, Utopian in comparison to what I knew before it. Not only did I learn new skills, I grew to know what type of environment I needed to work within in order to be successful”
When Paula LeVere, Founder/Director of Dance Happens, looks back at her experience as a TWIG, it helps her today as a teacher. “We were given free dance classes, free dance attire, and the opportunity to perform with the high school students in the Nutcracker. Our teachers nurtured our bodies and mind both physically and mentally. Today, I encourage my students to strive for their goals and I have the opportunity to stress the importance of the arts for our younger generation.”
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