For about 150 elementary school kids, a visit to Loyola Marymount University on June 1 was all about fun. Arriving from Westside Global Awareness Magnet School in Marina del Rey, they spilled out of four big, yellow school buses onto the lawn of the Thomas P. Kelly Jr. Student Art Gallery, where most of the kids’ creations were on display. Buzzing with excitement, they were there to add to the collection, by painting, drawing and creating new works of art.
The exhibit marked the 10th anniversary of ARTsmart, a community service program of the Department of Art and Art History in the College of Communication and Fine Arts. For a decade, LMU students and instructors along with local artists have provided education in fine arts to students from kindergarten to middle school.
One of ARTsmart’s best-known alumni is Kate Micucci ’03, who was an ARTsmart volunteer when the program was launched. With ukulele in hand, Micucci sang a song she had written especially for the event. Micucci has appeared in films, such as “When in Rome,” and on several TV shows, including “Scrubs” and “Raising Hope.” She also performs regularly on the L.A. comedy circuit as part of the musical/comedy duo Garfunkle and Oates. A few Westside kids recognized her face from TV roles, but more screamed with excitement when told that the actress who is the voice of Julie on Disney’s animated show “Motorcity” had come to speak to them.
The ARTsmart program began in 2001 when Terry Lenihan, now the ARTsmart director, was teaching sculpture and installation art at LMU. Lenihan says the ongoing exposure to arts education is crucial in kids’ development. “Experiences in the arts are critical for developing 21st century skills like problem solving, the ability to learn from mistakes and self-expression,” Lenihan explains.
“The thing about Kate,” says Lenihan, “is that the kids instantly bond with her. Even after she graduated, the kids would ask me, ‘Is Kate going to come back?’ She brings joy to any environment. She did that at ARTsmart and the kids loved it.”
But the kids are not the only ones who benefit, she adds. About 50 LMU students volunteer with the program each semester, half earning course credits and half simply because they value the experience. “Our students learn skills of collaborating as team members, but they also develop leadership skills by being leaders in the eyes of the kids and their peers.” Some ARTsmart volunteers become teachers or work in nonprofit organizations with kids.
Lenihan’s expertise in arts education has been recognized beyond LMU. In February 2010, she was appointed to the California Arts Council by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and reappointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In March 2012, Lenihan was named to the Creative Schools Task Force, which was created to draft recommendations about arts education in schools for a report titled “A Blueprint for Creative Schools: How the Arts and Creative Education Can Transform California’s Classrooms.”