Registration is in progress for programs in the Academy of the Arts at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, with academy director Dr. Rosilee Walker Russell having high expectations for the Academy’s seventh year.
“We believe this is going to be our best year ever,” said Russell. “We are anticipating more than 400 students from preschool through high school to participate this fall. When we began in 2006, we served some 70 students that first year. We’ve grown, and we will continue to grow as we provide marvelous opportunities for enrichment for students in this area.”
The Academy offers a preschool program, instrumental ensembles, choral and theatre programs, private music lessons and an art program. The Academy also provides the community with a Distinguished Artists Series that showcases special guest performers and a ShowTime Series, which is a set of musical theatre productions presented by the Academy theatre companies. Numerous classes, lessons and activities begin in August.
A new class in Music Theory will be offered as part of the Academy curriculum this year. Russell said it was added because of the greater number of teen musicians participating in Academy programs.
“We want to help prepare these teens for college-level music,” she said, “and a theory class helps to do that. Besides, it’s fun and interesting to get to learn how music is put together -- melodies, rhythms and harmonies. Then, once you understand theory, you can imitate what artists are doing.”
Russell is also excited about the Academy’s faculty, which will include nine joining the staff in August.
“The Academy has a wonderful group of faculty who have advanced training in their particular arts areas and who happen to love to work with young people,” she said. “They are what make the Academy a great place for kids.”
Russell said faculty credentials are “amazing.”
“We have faculty with advanced degrees from Florida State University, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Southern Methodist University, Oberlin Conservatory, Rice University and the University of Texas, among others,” she said.
In addition, the new and current faculty have experience serving as band directors, symphony players, drama teachers and vocal instructors.
Russell said one of the newcomers this fall, Sheila Mann, will be no stranger to many who enroll their children in Academy programs.
“Sheila will be coming on board to lead the Academy Children’s Choir and Teen Honor Choir, teach private voice lessons and serve as the musical director for the Academy’s musical theatre productions,” said Russell. “Many in this area know her and her husband because of their work with the Fort Smith Little Theatre. She will be an asset with her more than 30 years of experience in the choral and musical theatre areas.”
Mann has a bachelor’s degree in vocal music education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Master of Church Music in vocal pedagogy from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“The new faculty, combined with the outstanding faculty we already have, will inspire and motivate our students in the coming year,” said Russell. “I can’t begin to say how exciting it is to see so many children and teens get involved in our programs. Students can participate as much as they choose, from once a week to every day.”
Academy classes are offered after school, evenings and on weekends.
“Our programs serve to connect students to the arts and to other students and to enhance what students are learning at their schools,” she said. “Currently, the Academy is reaching some 60 schools in more than 15 school districts, and that number is expected to climb this year as well. It’s a winning situation all the way around.
Russell said the Academy has also seen some of its early students now graduate from high school, with one of the students, Christopher Ha, selected for the Chancellor’s Leadership Council at UAFS for the fall semester. Ha, who has served as the principal violinist for the Academy’s Youth Honor Symphony Orchestra, will be majoring in music education at UAFS.
“He is an excellent musician and a great student,” she said. “I just know he will do great things in his college career, and we are so glad to have been a part of bringing him along in the arts while he was in the Academy.”
Some Academy activities have auditions for placement in the appropriate group. Audition dates and times are in August and vary.
For more information, contact Shannon Stoddard, continuing education specialist, by telephone at 479-788-7252 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Sarah Taylor, administrative specialist, by telephone at 479-788-7253 or by email at email@example.com. Registration forms for the Academy programs, which also have some scholarship opportunities, are available on the UAFS website at www.uafs.edu/academy.