From left to right: Mayor Greg Fischer, Judy Layne-Banks, Barbara Sexton Smith, Andre Kimo Stone Guess, and Jim Allen
For Barbara Sexton Smith, we’re all in this together, and that means ensuring accessible arts experiences for every person, beginning in childhood. Whether she’s talking to you about her mother’s early beginnings in Appalachia, the sermon that she heard by a guest preacher last Sunday or joining the Fund for the Arts herself for what was supposed to be a 6-week fundraising engagement, Sexton Smith’s stories wind from anecdote to anecdote, always landing on the importance of human connection.
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 47,933 experiences through 345 grants impacting 170 schools, 7 community centers, and 2 health facilities with $525,500 in 2021-22. 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.” Last month, Fund for the Arts was thrilled to partner with the Baird Excellence Awards and Jefferson County Public Schools to offer two new 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. Judy Layne-Banks, an art teacher from Wilkerson Elementary, was awarded $1000 gift in this first year of the award. Layne-Banks began her career in Barbados as both an exhibiting artist and classroom teacher who used art to assist students experiencing difficulties in reading and number recognition. For the past 15 years, since first moving to the United States to study art at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she has been the Art, Drama, and Dance teacher at Wilkerson Elementary.
“Art is more than a subject. I teach art as a way of seeing the world and as a way of expressing oneself. Art combines all subjects into one…in teaching areas such as portraiture, students need to be taught that the topic connects with mathematics through symmetry,” offered Layne-Banks on the importance of teaching art in the classroom. “I am totally amazed and felt humbled by the award. It has made me want to do so much more to help students to appreciate art, culture, and education.”
The second recognition, a $5,000 gift made to a school to support in-school and field trip arts experiences, went to Engelhard Elementary. The Barbara Sexton Smith Education Enhancement Fund award will support arts experiences with Squallis Puppeteers, StageOne Family Theatre, and Kentucky Shakespeare that both bring arts into the classroom and take students to new arts environments. “It’s so special to me that the first year of the Barbara Sexton Smith Education Enhancement Fund went to Engelhard Elementary because my mother went to Engelhard in 1930 when she was taken at six years old to the Baptist Orphans Home,” recalls Sexton Smith, “…she often told me how important it was in her childhood to get to hear the orchestra play, or see visual art presented.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.
And that six-week fundraising engagement? It became 17 years with Fund for the Arts.