For Barbara Sexton Smith, we’re all in this together, and that means ensuring accessible arts experiences for every person, beginning in childhood. Barbara Sexton Smith, President and CEO at Fund for the Arts between 2012 and 2014, was an early champion for programs like 5×5 and Teacher Arts Grants (TAG) that provide funding to K-12 schools to enhance classroom instruction through arts experiences. Today, these grants are part of a larger Fund for the Arts initiative called Arts in Learning in which Fund for the Arts serves as a conduit for connecting arts program providers to teachers and school administrators. Arts in Learning supported 33,556 arts experiences through 559 grants, with a total investment of over $640,000 in 2022-2023. These programs provide curriculum-based arts learning programs to schools and community centers across the region, expanding student access to the arts.  

In an early year of the 5×5 program, Sexton Smith was invited to Portland Elementary to see the school’s final showcase of 5×5 programs. Each grade level created a performance to demonstrate their learning, including a 5th grade depiction in which students reenacted the Boston Tea Party, tossing cream colored couch cushions into the audience to replicate tossing tea bags into the Boston Harbor. Meeting a teacher in the hallway that evening, he told her that he was out to gather more chairs, having never, in 14 years of teaching, seen as many parents and friends come to the school to support their children. “He had tears in his eyes,” Sexton Smith recounts, “and I knew in that moment that what we were doing with 5×5 was achieving the goals we set out to achieve.” Fund for the Arts is honored to partner with the Baird Excellence Awards and Jefferson County Public Schools to offer two annual awards named for Sexton Smith, celebrating her legacy in arts and education. 

The Barbara Sexton Smith Teacher Award presented by Fund for the Arts recognizes one exceptional teacher utilizing art in their classrooms. Dr. Luke Darville, Director of Orchestras at Western Middle School for the Arts, was awarded a $1000 gift in honor of his work this past school year. Originally from Danville, Kentucky, Dr. Darville began his cello studies with the Heritage Area String Program. He studied at the University of Louisville and the University of Minnesota and has taught and performed with schools and orchestras across the country, as well as running a private studio for 15 years.

The second recognition, The Barbara Sexton Smith Educational Enhancement Fund, a gift made to a school to support in-school and field trip arts experiences, went to Lyman T. Johnson Traditional Middle School, which is committed to creating a safe community where all adolescents and adults are respected and empowered to become lifelong learners and leaders. This grant will allow Lyman T. Johnson to facilitate arts programming as part of curriculum, free of cost. 

The Arts in Learning initiative at Fund for the Arts aims to continue the work of 5×5, Teacher Arts Grants, and more to ensure more access to more arts in learning environments. As Sexton Smith knows, “the arts can change the trajectory of a child’s life.”  

If you are a teacher, school administrator, philanthropist, or anyone interested in bringing Arts in Learning programs to a school or community center, please contact Fund for the Arts at We would love to hear from you.  

Click here to learn more about the 2023 Baird Excellence Awards and Winners. 

Published September 19, 2023

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