Scholarships from Clark County nonprofits boost young artists
In a growing field like this, it’s fairly typical for artists to volunteer their services. They are motivated by ambition and joy, not profit. And when it comes to drama students, parents often have to pay registration or other fees before their children can perform in plays put on by local performing arts programs.
At least a few of Clark County’s nonprofit performing arts institutions have reversed that script by providing scholarships for young artists to continue their education.
To provide $500 in scholarships for art students fifth grade and up, the nonprofit organization Enspire Arts is hosting a gala benefit concert Saturday at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver. Admission is free, but Enspire Arts gratefully accepts donations.
Both professional and student artists will take the stage. These talents include Portland jazz pianist Clay Giberson (who, according to his website, grew up “both in the fields and at the piano” in rural Woodland); Latin jazz singer Jessie Marquez from Eugene, Oregon; baritone singer Zachary Lenox from Beaverton, Oregon; and members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Sarah Lightfoot launched Enspire in 2017. Last fall, it awarded its fifth round of annual grants. Enspire awards three $500 grants annually to support education in a selected area of artistic study (music, visual arts, dance, drama, literature). Private tuition, workshops and summer studies all qualify, with bursary money paid directly to the instructor.
Other local arts organizations awarding student scholarships:
A condition of the scholarship is that recipients also act as art ambassadors by sharing their passion with the community in a positive, meaningful, and family-friendly way. Recent examples of community projects conducted by Enspire Arts Ambassadors include performances and presentations in schools and senior centers, as well as after-school peer classes or workshops in dance and music, Lightfoot said.
“These young people are doing great work in our community,” Lightfoot said.
Current students in grades five through eleven can apply. The next application cycle for the Art Ambassador grant begins on March 31st and ends on April 30th. After that, an interview takes place. Decisions are made by the Board of Enspire solely on the basis of artistic merit.
Enspire also hosts after-school classes for children, training for teachers, and the occasional adult community art night.
“Murder” for grants
A similar strategy is pursued at Riverside Performing Arts and its associated non-profit organization, Northwest Performing Arts Academy. As Riverside prepares to direct a comic play called The Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery, the Northwest Performing Arts Academy has raised funds to provide the 14 young actors in the cast with $1,000 each in scholarship funds to deliver .
These actors are all between the ages of 11 and 17, according to Scott Craig, co-founder of both organizations.
“All performers are 100 percent funded for their continuing education in the performing arts,” said Craig.
Riverside was founded in 2017 and Northwest Performing Arts Academy in 2020, Craig said.
“As arts programs have been cut left and right in our public schools,” he said, “we created an organization that provides arts education to families who otherwise could not afford performing arts experience.”
In the 2021-22 school year, Craig said, the NWPAA raised and distributed $14,000 in scholarship funds for qualifying low-income students to help cover tuition and fees at Riverside. In the 2022-23 school year, that number almost doubled to $27,000.
“Funds were raised through private donations, fundraising and ticket sales,” he said.
But the sister organizations wanted to go beyond providing scholarships just for Riverside students, Craig said. Like the Enspire bursary, the bursary funds raised in connection with Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery can be used for almost any type of future education.
“We held an open audition in September,” Craig said. “The performers were chosen based on their skill and experience, but they will all receive the same financial prize. These funds can be used anywhere for colleges, trade schools or classes. We work with each family to determine how the funds will be distributed.”
Craig said he intends Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery to be the first of many productions in which the cast will either receive grant money or be paid for their work.
Compensating youth for their work encourages them to take it seriously, Craig said.
“We want to give these children professional experience and money for further education,” he said. “This is a chance for kids to earn their own money for their own education by doing something they love.”