Art Talk Monday

Just weeks ago, the North Central Louisiana Arts Council concluded its Drama Warehouse program in Bernice. While NCLAC has been doing the program throughout our region since 1994, this was the first time NCLAC incorporated a literacy building component.

When we decided to do the program in Union parish and began to research the area, we learned that Union parish has a high school drop-out rate of nearly 40%, which was shocking. We immediately thought, “What can we do to help change that statistic?”

Through a partnership with the Northeast Louisiana Adult and Family Literacy Consortium and their on-site coordinator Kay Brown, NCLAC was able to fuse the fun and excitement of drama with literacy building games and exercises to help families in Bernice.

Jessica Slaughter, who has been NCLAC’s Educational Coordinator since March, was instrumental in executing the program. About the experience, she said, “I’m not from this area, so to be able to help serve our community makes it feel more like home to me. It’s nice to see a small community benefit from a program they may not normally have.”

On May 23, participating families performed creative fairy tales at the Bernice Civic Center under direction of instructor Allie Bennett. After reading several fairy tales, participants chose to practice and perform stories such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Gingerbread Man.”

Bennett, an actor and owner of Stitchville in Ruston, said the experience was new and interesting for her. She is used to working with kids, but working with families was quite different, especially when literacy, and sometimes serious language deficiencies, are also part of the dynamic.

Bennett said, “Because of the language barrier, the kids were translating, prodding their parents, and really bringing them out of their shells.” For many of them, kids and parents alike, this was the first performing they had done.

According to Slaughter, “Involving parents in the program made learning a family affair, with homework assignments that could be discussed at the dinner table.” In the end, the program boosted their confidence and increased their literacy on a variety of levels through fun and creative means.

Once a week for five weeks, Allie worked with the families. She said their excitement and questions let her know they were listening and really getting something out of the experience.

For many of the kids, “This was play time, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s important for kids to have play time that is also enriching their lives,” said Bennett.

For Bennett, Slaughter, and others who were directly involved in this year’s Drama Warehouse project, the impact is obvious, but Slaughter hopes that such projects will help other local artists. “They can see how can they can use their art in service to the community.”

This fall, NCLAC will be producing another youth educational program in our region: My Vision, My Voice. This program was first presented by NCLAC in 2008 and will take place this year in Arcadia through a partnership with Arcadia High School’s 21st Century Community Learning Center.  

My Vision, My Voice is a photojournalism program that not only allows students to express themselves on a creative level but also shows them the value of these skills. According to Slaughter, “These students live in an area where few go to college, so this type of program allows them to see how they can use writing and photography in the real world.” 

Graduate students and professors from the School of Art at Tech will be serving as instructors and mentors for this project.   

Programs like Drama Warehouse and My Vision, My Voice would not be possible without the financial support of members of our community. Thanks to all of you who give. Your generosity is much appreciated. “The exposure to the arts offered by these workshops will perhaps be the spark to ignite a love of learning and creative thinking,” said Slaughter.

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