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ON THE SCENE: Joy to the Children makes arts accessible

December 12, 2013
NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The arts activities are available for all local children, and many are free of charge. That's the message organizers of Dec. 5 Joy to the Children event wish to be clearly heard by parents and educators in the region.

The recent opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. provided social scientists the opportunity to examine the impact of exposure to and participation in the arts on kids (New York Times on Nov. 5). In that largely rural region, few children had access to the arts, and of consequence, demand for school visitations to the new museum greatly exceeded space availability.

The museum, in partnership with social scientists and educators from the University of Arkansas, Rice University, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, conducted a lottery to randomly select the students who would be granted admission. Comparing pre- and post-surveys of all the students, those who were able to visit the museum the first year against those who were not, the scientists determined that participation in the arts resulted in a wide array of benefits ranging from improving tolerance, critical thinking and social skills, and challenging the students through providing them with different perspectives of the human condition.

Article Photos

Students sing Christmas carols during the Dec. 5 Joy to the Children fundraising event at the Mirror Lake Inn. They are Kate Broderick, Dayna Bearce, Lily Ervin, Lindsey McCreadie, Will Holmlund, Katie Samperi, Sarah Samperi and John Holmlund. (Photo by Naj Wikoff)

"Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school's curriculum," the researchers concluded.

"Years of research show that participation in the arts is closely linked to almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity," wrote Fran Smith in her article "Why Arts Education is Critical, and Who's Doing it Best," for Edutopia in 2009. "Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork."

In light of these and other findings, young people in the Tri-Lakes region, and Lake Placid especially, are extremely fortunate to be able to participate in the wide array of arts programming and creative activities organized and presented by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts that are funded by the annual Joy to the Children benefit hosted by Ed and Lisa Weibrecht of the Mirror Lake Inn.

"The Weibrechts always had a Christmas open house," said Nadine Duhaime, former LPCA director. "Lisa was a member of our board. She suggested we ask for donations to support arts programming for children at their open house, and we raised nearly $10,000. We were thrilled. We did it gain the second year, also informally raising nearly $15,000. They then offered to turn their Christmas celebration into an annual benefit. This is now our 27th. Last year we took in $100,000."

"Joy to the Children supports after-school arts programming, children's theater, special workshops, the overhead for the dance school so 'Nutcracker' can be presented here, arts camps in the summer, and really every aspect of our programing and arts offerings for youth," continued Nadine. "The art center could not do what is does for kids without the Lake Placid Education Foundation and Joy to the Children. It is a major cornerstone of our programming. This is a big deal. Many kids in our ballet school are on full scholarship because of this. Our programs touch kids throughout the county."

"For me, participating is full circle," said Erin Perkins benefit co-chair. "I have been teaching kids at Keene Central School for so long. I have been able to bring my kids to the arts center to attend many events for free, or at least half price. Joy to the Children makes the arts accessible."

"I teach special ed," said Sharon Wood, the other co-chair. "I bring my kids and their parents to many free events. We have been coming for a long time. Many of these families simply do not have the resources to provide their children this level of access to the arts or live programming. Children in Head Start and similar programs come for free. The kids love everything from the magic shows to the Sinfonietta concerts for children."

"I am pleased that in over 25 years the volunteers and enthusiasm has never wavered or dimmed," said Erin. "We have over 250 auction items, new volunteers every year, new auction items every year, and we are very grateful for those who assemble the wreaths, who donate the gift baskets, and come as donors. They make this event such a success."

"Joy to the Children covers about 12 percent of our budget," said LPCA director James Lemons. "I think it is a fantastic kickoff to the holiday season and it really demonstrates how the greater Lake Placid community supports its own."

"We are trying to do our part for Joy to the Children," said Gary Smith, owner of the Northwoods Inn attending the benefit. "We appreciate the Weibrechts' role in hosting this. Their support for providing access to the arts for kids is unparalleled."

"We had to come back," said state Assemblyman Dan Stec in attendance with his wife, Hilary. "The Inn is so beautiful, and this is such a great cause. We are thrilled to come up. Plus Lake Placid is one of our favorite destinations."

"It is the event of the year," said Marilyn Zygo. "It's great chance to dress up."

Four hundred and ninety-five people attended this year's Joy to the Children. As of press time, it had raised between $105,000 and $110,000.

"We are very happy with the results of this year's event," said Lisa Weibrecht. "Living up in the Adirondacks, you don't have as many opportunities to participate in the arts as if you were living in a metropolitan area like New York City. That said, I think we have a topnotch arts center that offers great performances and they do a lot with children. All of our kids used the arts center and benefited from it. They participated in different performances and they loved it.

"The arts also provide children more options in life. Not every kid is going to be a great athlete, scholar or business leader. The arts simply give kids more opportunities to grow."



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