Buzz Worthy

Buzz Worthy: Foundation aids local schools

Arts funding for schools may be down, but not out.

Not if Norman Olshansky has anything to say about it.

Olshansky is the new president and CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation. On the job for about two months, he is dedicated to the foundation’s mission of bringing the theater arts into schools in Manatee and Sarasota counties as well as the greater region.

About 40,000 students are served by the foundation’s educational outreach programs each year, which includes more than 9,000 from Manatee. They attend schooltime performances at the Van Wezel and — what I didn’t know — provide innovative arts integration in classrooms.

When I talked to Olshansky recently, he spoke about that side of their outreach, which is part of the Kennedy Center’s education initiative.

Arts integration includes training teachers on how to use the arts in schools to enhance the teaching of core subjects such as math, language arts and social studies. For example, an actor or dancer comes into the schools to teach body movement, integrating it with physics. Students then use their bodies to act out the molecular characteristics of the science.

The foundation also ties stage performances at the Van Wezel into language arts programs with fun reads like “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.” There have been elementary-based lesson plans on the book where students research everything from the deconstruction of fairy tales to the types of cheeses in the world.

Sure, Olshansky knows there are other arts institutions in the area doing some of the same things. But with educational budget cuts impacting an area that relies so heavily on the arts as an economic generator, the more student outreach the better.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is collective,” he said. “We’re preparing the country for the next generation of supporters of the arts.”

We’ve all heard of the reports about how arts education increases overall student performance. Olshansky cites those, which is why he’s excited about a new $5,000 grant the foundation recently received to help Manatee’s Title 1 schools for the 2010-11 season.

The grant is from the Gene and Bonnie Hull Fund, Weichel Family Fund and the Manatee Community Foundation Unrestricted Fund. It will provide transportation for more than 1,500 students to attend next season’s schooltime performances.

What arts education program would you like to applaud? Send an e-mail to or comment at herald