Virginia Newsome attends a school inhabited by painters, actors, musicians and writers. So when she realized how many children don't even have access to crayons and markers, let alone a stage or spotlight, she founded an organization to change that.
Virginia, 15, a junior at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, is the founder of heARTS, an organization that seeks to bring artistic expression into classrooms and clubs that have lost funding for arts education.
The idea came while Virginia was at the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership conference this summer in Chicago. She was challenged to come up with a community project, and she immediately knew she wanted to do something to benefit the arts.
Virginia was aware that there had been budget cuts to the arts at her school, and she knew that if the performing arts school was receiving less funding, other schools must be, too.
"When I think about the budget cuts to the arts at Lafayette, I just think that's (the arts) what we are known for," she said. "I wanted to explain why arts are so important, how they really affect us, and really get that message across."
Instead of simply raising awareness, Virginia decided to bring the arts directly to those who needed it by donating art supplies — and possibly performances — to them.
To test how her friends would respond to her idea, she created a Facebook page for the organization. Within two days, she had 200 "likes" and one message asking for supplies before she had even created a request form.
That request came from Sarah Ryder, the art teacher at Deep Springs Elementary School. Ryder said gradual cuts in the school's budget left her with no money for supplies for her art, music and drama classes.
"The school doesn't actually have an art budget," she said. "Fourteen years ago, when I started, I got $2,000. Now I only have what I make through fund-raising."
Virginia collected 266 markers, 128 glue sticks and 1,200 crayons for the art room at Deep Springs, mostly from donations by SCAPA parents. Ryder said the donation will tide her students over until fund-raising can be completed in November.
"We would have done without, used dried-up markers, leftovers from last year," she said. "I'm thankful for SCAPA, but our PTA is not as wealthy as other schools and can't help out as much. A lot of schools are not able to do that."
Virginia hopes to expand heARTS to bring performances and workshops taught by SCAPA graduates and local artists to groups that can't afford them. She has 30 volunteers, and she designated SCAPA sophomore Amelia Collins to create a presentation to take to school boards when arts funding is being considered for cuts.
"We want to explain how arts can raise test scores, they help discipline issues, help time management," Virginia said. "Even if you don't want to go into the arts as a profession, they (the arts) can be helpful, in any way shape or form."
Laura Newsome, Virginia's mother, said she was impressed with the attitude and realistic approach the students took when they developed the idea.
"We were very pleased because even though the kids were upset, instead of whining and crying, they figured out a productive way to fill a void," she said. "They realize we're all in tough economic times, and they might not be able to just put that money back in arts, but they're trying to figure out a way to not lose all the arts programs."
HeARTS focuses mostly on elementary schools, but Virginia is open to hearing requests from any group that needs assistance. She wants to expand to serve all of Kentucky and has even been contacted about schools in Hawaii and Africa in need of supplies.
Beyond her fellow student volunteers, Virginia enlisted the help of her father, Brad Newsome, an accountant, to make heARTS a 501(c) organization, so donations are tax deductible. She accepts sheet music, costumes, dance gear, instruments, scripts, art supplies, and most anything that can help a child experience some form of art. She plans to have a representative for each arts discipline to be a contact and determine what supplies are most needed.
A recent request from a Floyd County school has Virginia seeking band instruments. The school has 40 kids in band but only 20 instruments. She already has been offered donations of two violins, a cello, a trumpet and a few electric keyboards. On top of that, the art supplies keep rolling in.
"It's slowly taking over our dining room table," she said.
Laura Newsome said she wants people to realize how easy it can be to make a donation. The heARTS Facebook page often lists what stores are having sales on art supplies to encourage even the smallest donation.
"Packs of glue sticks sell for $1, so for $5 you can get 20 kids a glue stick," she said. "Through messages like that, people can realize it's not a hard thing to do if you're already out shopping."
Within three weeks of the group's creation, the heARTS Facebook page accumulated more than 650 fans, and Virginia's plans for the organization are growing as steadily as her numbers.
"My goal would be to have a chapter of heARTS in every school in Kentucky, at least. I won't say in the country, but that would be great," she said.
For more informations on heARTS, go to Hearts4arts.org.