In a small dance studio with mirrors lining the walls, a group of high school students dance across a black mat taped to the wooden floor. A Latin-American song, “Lástima Que Seas Ajena” by Oscar D’León, plays from a speaker as the students listen to their instructor call out the steps.
When they’re told to find a new partner, the students scatter. One of them is left partnerless, but he dances confidently alone around the clump of his peers anyway, swaying his hips and shouting along with the music.
All the students are artists, but most of this group are not trained dancers. On a Thursday afternoon during their first week at the Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts, the high school students are taking a “Smorgs” class, where they learn about an art form other than what they specialize in and came to study at the summer program.
“It’s more than an art camp, and it is more than a summer camp,” GSA Director Nick Covault said. “GSA is a place for young artists to come and to be accepted as artists and to be held accountable as artists.”
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This summer the Governor’s School celebrates its 30th anniversary with 256 students from high schools around the state attending the program in Danville at Centre College, each specializing in one of nine art forms: architecture and design, creative writing, dance, drama, film and photography, instrumental music, musical theater, visual art and vocal music.
Students have classes or studio time related to their art form every day and attend workshops throughout the week, like the “Smorgs,” to learn about other art forms.
Guest speakers and performers also visit, including 2004 GSA alumnus Kevin Olusola, member of Grammy Award-winning a cappella group Pentatonix.
This place feels so much like home. There’s so much of this program in me.
Nick Covault, GSA director
Covault said the program places an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and interaction, so students studying different art forms collaborate to work on projects together. Architecture and design students might work with dance students to create a structure out of human bodies, Covault said.
Covault is GSA’s first director who is also an alumnus of the program. He attended as a student in 2002 and still has his acceptance letter, which sits on a shelf in his office next to framed photos from his time at the program. He worked as an intern during the summer program for three years while studying vocal music and arts administration at the University of Kentucky.
As a college student, Covault said he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to pursue a career as a professional performer. When he met with his adviser to discuss his future, he remembers telling her he was interested in running a program like GSA.
This fall, he “became the luckiest guy in the world” when he was appointed director. Looking out at the students at the opening ceremony was like looking at himself from the other side of the mirror, he said.
“This place feels so much like home,” he said. “There’s so much of this program in me.”
Governor’s School intern and UK student Ruthie Sangster said Covault “definitely encompasses the spirit of what arts administration is” through the fun he brings to his role and the encouragement he offers students.
Covault and three other full-time administrative employees work year-round to facilitate the audition process and plan the three-week summer program.
A little over half of the program’s funding comes from the state, Covault said, and the rest of the budget is funded by individual donors and corporate sponsors.
About 1,400 students apply and audition for the program each year, around 20 percent of whom receive acceptance.
“We’re not just a conservatory for the crème de la crème, the elite students of Kentucky,” Covault said. “We’re just a special place where students get fed in ways they don’t necessarily get fed the rest of the year.”
Atherton High School senior Haley Hack is studying visual art at GSA and said she loves getting to focus on art every day. She said so far her experience has also strengthened her appreciation for art forms other than what she’s used to being around.
J. Graham Brown School senior Noah Bunch said “it’s cool to be around a bunch of people that have the same passion as you.”
Bunch also mentioned the inclusive spirit he has found at GSA. Rather than competing to be the most talented, he said, students build each other up.
“There’s so many aspects of this program that aren’t just about creating great artists but creating great citizens,” Covault said. “We’re a program for people who want to change the world through their creativity, and you just can’t go wrong with that concept. The world needs that.”
Emma Austin: (859) 231-1455