Engaging students creatively

Shelby County Arts Council reaches young people through community outreach

Written by Lindsay Dyess

Photograph by Kevin McKee

The Shelby County Arts Council is dedicated to providing the community with the best art and music from across the Southeast, but there are also many programs beneath the surface that you might not know about. For the past few years, we have seen our programs flourish and have an impact on community members. Our community outreach includes Writing Our Stories, Art Abilities and the JDC Arts Program. Each of these programs work with local students to bring art and music into their lives at no cost to them.

Writing Our Stories is a creative writing campaign developed by the Shelby County Arts Council and the Alabama Writers Forum to teach middle school students creative expression while sharpening their writing skills. The class is taught by a published poet or writer. The teacher helps guide the students through the process and helps them to unlock their own creative potential. Students learn important skills such as reading and writing reinforcement, how to work together and how to be empathetic to one another. At the end of the program all of the students’ work is published in a book they get to keep.

“The Writing Our Stories program has truly been a way for my students to write creatively and express passions from deep within through the art of poetry,” says Columbiana Middle School teacher Elizabeth Birdsong. “Students wrestle with words, ideas and rhythms to make their stories come alive. The poetry is a reflection of each student’s individuality and creativity and provides a window into their heart and lives.”

The Art Abilities program, currently in its ninth year, reaches 20 schools in Shelby County and provides visual art and music classes to special needs students. Visual art, taught by Edna Sealy, and music, taught by Charles Tortoricci, are used as learning tools to help these students develop skills such as social skills, positive behavior modification while learning individuality and creativity.

“We give kids a chance to be creative and it builds their self-esteem,” says Sealy. “We also give them sensory projects to work on, projects that help with motor skills, cognitive development and getting along with other kids.”

According to Sealy, children start to open up when they learn to express themselves creatively. This program is just one example of how art can positively impact a child’s life and lead them to a brighter future.

Another successful outreach program is the JDC Arts Program. This program works with the Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center to provide a creative outlet for students at the center. Artists visit the center three times a month for classes. The variety of classes include expressionist art with Scott Owen, drawing with Bruce Andrews, creative writing with Brian Weimer, photography with Hank Seigel and drum therapy with John Scalici.

“All artists are charged with the goal of completing a project start to finish in their 90-minute session,” says Bruce Andrews. “We all believe that reaching someone’s ‘creative brain’ is redemptive. It’s our job to craft exercises and projects that engage students and surprise them with their own creative ability.”

This program was designed to engage students creatively and express themselves in a positive way.

The mission of the Shelby County Arts Council is to support, nurture and promote the arts and cultural opportunities in Shelby County. Our outreach programs would not be possible without support from the Alabama Writers Forum, the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the Shelby County Community Health Foundation, the Shelby County Juvenile Court System, the Shelby County Commission and membership to the SCAC. We believe in the redemptive and therapeutic value of the arts. For more information about these programs, to learn how to support us or to become a member, visit Shelbycountyartscouncil.com