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Pepperdine ARTSreach Program Engages Local Youth in Educational Virtual Arts Activities During Coronavirus Pandemic

ARTSreach - Pepperdine UniversityFor nearly 30 years, the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts Guild has been dedicated to the growth of the ARTSReach program, an initiative launched in 1992 that provides free musical and theatrical performances and museum tours to more than 5,000 local K–12 students each year from throughout Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Each December the Center for the Arts Guild hosts a holiday boutique event—this year held virtually during the first 11 days of December—sponsored by local vendors who contribute 100 percent of merchandise sales to support ARTSReach programming. As schools and other academic and recreation programs remained closed this summer and fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Center for the Arts partnered with participating schools to provide socially distanced educational programming for both students and teachers.

Center for the Arts staff and student employees hosted free pre-recorded museum tours, at-home art creation projects, virtual backstage tours, and exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences. With plans to continue weekly remote enrichment opportunities throughout spring 2021, virtual performances by professional artists may also be added to the program in the coming months.

The ARTSReach program is an incredibly meaningful program for the students who participate, many of whom come from Title I schools with limited access to arts opportunities, says Rebecca Carson, managing director for the Center for the Arts. “For many students, the field trip to Pepperdine is their first chance to attend a live performance, to see an art museum, and to visit a college campus. We receive letters from students who attend our performances with comments like, ‘We love Pepperdine,’ and ‘Can I go to Pepperdine someday?’ They come to the lobby after the performances, dancing, laughing, singing, and full of joy.”  

With a team that includes 22 student workers, 10 of whom have helped produce online ARTSReach content this year, Center for the Arts staff provides teachers with access to virtual experiences on the Pepperdine website to share with their students at their convenience.

“In difficult times, we need the arts more than ever. We need to be inspired and energized, to stretch our creative muscles, and to seek out new experiences and perspectives,” says Carson about the positive and transformative impact of the arts. “All of us at the Center for the Arts are committed to bringing joy, wonder, and inspiration to the students in our ARTSReach program—whether they are physically with us on campus or joining us virtually from throughout Southern California.” 

Carson, who has “a million fun stories about ARTSReach,” reminiscences about a 2015 memory of an ARTSreach teacher who arrived one week early for a scheduled performance date at the Malibu campus and was concerned about what she would tell the 50 children on the school bus behind her. Embracing the opportunity to educate and engage with the young students, Carson and Maxwell Siefert (’15), a former student worker and trained opera singer, quickly improvised backstage tours of the center's venues, facilities, and scene shop.  

“When our groups gathered together again after the tours, the elementary school students were shouting to Max, ‘Can you sing something in German?’ and ‘Can you sing something in Italian?’ As an opera performer, Max was happy to oblige,” recalls Carson. “I still see that teacher at Pepperdine performances. She has mentioned that it was one of the most fortunate mistakes she has ever made, since her students had such a unique opportunity to interact with our University students.” 

Learn more about the ARTSReach program on the Center for the Arts website.