Project Good: Zionsville volunteers back art education 


Art With a Heart works to provide hands-on visual arts experiences that educate and inspire at-risk children. Unfortunately, there are many schools in the area that have needed to cut back on their arts education. The gap has been especially hard for children who come from impoverished homes. Approximately 70 percent of Art With a Heart students are at or below the poverty line.

Studies show again and again the importance of arts education in achievement, particularly in students from historically underserved communities. According to studies collected by the Americans for the Arts:

•    After-school arts programs save cities money. For every $1 spent on after-school programs, $9 is saved by reducing welfare and crime costs, improving academic performance and increasing kids’ earning potential.
•    The arts help people succeed. Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate college than their peers with no arts education.
•    Students excited by school stay in school. Low-income students who participate in the arts, both in school and after school, have a dropout rate of just 4 percent — five times lower than their peers.
•    The arts make young adults more civically engaged. Seventy-eight percent of young adults who had arts-rich experiences were more likely to vote or participate in a political campaign.
•    Students who take four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with only a half-year or less
•    Arts programs reduce crime levels. Participation in after-school arts programs causes juvenile crime to fall by 4.2 percent on average, and slightly more (5.4 percent) in lower income cities.

Unfortunately, there is inequity in arts education. There are schools with abundant resources – in materials, staff and training – and then there are schools without.  The goal of Art with a Heart is to try to even the playing field by providing classroom teachers with curriculum, materials and support so that they can integrate visual art into the everyday learning experience.

The same is true in enrichment/afterschool environments. There are families that have the resources to provide arts camps and afterschool classes for their children, but there are large groups of children without that access. Their programs step in to provide arts programming in community centers, after school, camps, libraries and in their studios, bringing parity in experience with more affluent communities.

The organization strategy is to try to integrate their program as closely as possible with the rest of the students’ education. So, for example, for the in-school portion, the Art With a Heart people train general education teachers on art instruction, and then leverage the work of those teachers by providing volunteers so that classes with 25 or so students might have a 7 to 1 ratio of students to teachers during art instruction. Art instruction works best when it is personal. Using the general education teachers also allows a better integration with the other subjects like math and English.

Several board members have Zionsville ties, including Aja May Pirtle and Jessica Stokley. The Zionsville volunteers help where they can, which includes fundraising. But the organization needs volunteers to help work with the kids. Prior art experience is not required. Many of the volunteers work with kindergartners and first graders to oversee basic art projects. The organization provides training for those who need it. Programs include in-school work at IPS elementary schools, afterschool work at the organization’s headquarters on the near east side of Indianapolis and help with weeklong summer camps that the organization hosts.

Some of the students truly become passionate about art, and continue in the program for years. Walking around the afterschool program and seeing the range of experience illustrates vividly how far the students come in a short amount of time.

Information about volunteering can be found at