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CSMA opens world of creativity for local youth

Art teacher Linda Covello will always remember the 6-year-old boy who cried and hid under his desk every week during art class.

And yet, "by the time he was in third grade, he felt like he was a really good artist," said Covello, now "Arts in Action" director for the Community School of Music and Arts. "He wasn't going to be told, 'No, that was wrong. Here's another piece of paper, start over.'"

At CSMA, students learn that there is no wrong answer. And that message goes to a lot of students: The nonprofit's "In the Schools" program brings art and music to more than 7,500 children in elementary schools throughout the region, providing them with hands-on arts training every week.

"It is an endeavor that is predicated on what they bring," said Kay Kleinerman, "Music in the Schools" director. "It's all about what you do with the melody -- what personal characteristic do they want to bring to it? It's ownership of discovery, ownership of creativity."

This year, CSMA is among seven local organizations receiving donations from Voice readers through the annual Holiday Fund drive.

As a teacher, Covello used to make mistakes on purpose in order to help her students understand the variety of possibilities available to them in art. "They're given the chance to make the decision," she said. "It builds their sense of curiosity, their ability to think and keep their minds alive."

The Arts in Action curriculum grants students the time and freedom to exercise their creativity while training them in basic art concepts, history and techniques. Covello recalls an instance when a local news team asked her third grade class what they were doing. Her students responded with a detailed account of what they were learning, using advanced vocabulary to explain ideas that went beyond the knowledge of the moderator.

"The news people had no idea what they were talking about," she said. "The 8-year-olds were out-arting them."

Meanwhile, the Music in the Schools program provides a concert series exposing students to cultures all over the world. This year, the series included music from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, as well as classical baroque.

"Music crosses barriers in a way that few other things do," Kleinerman said. "[It is something innate in all of us."

Ina Johnson, a former Arts in Action teacher and current graphic designer for CSMA, believes that the arts help spark an interest in other subjects. As a ceramicist, Johnson said, she was inspired to learn about the chemistry behind what she was doing; she suggests the same may be true of other artistic disciplines, such as geometry for quilt-makers.

Johnson considers the joy of creation one of the greatest values of art. "In art, there's an immediate feedback," she said. "No matter how many gold stars you get in your little book, the most exciting thing is that you're making music."

In addition to the In the Schools program, more than 800 students pass through the doors of CSMA every day for on-site private lessons. CSMA serves students of all ages and backgrounds, offering financial aid to those in need.

True to its mission of providing "arts for all," the school hosts a number of free concerts and exhibitions throughout the year. The nonprofit's Web site, www.arts4all.org, includes a schedule of the many upcoming performances and art exhibits at its San Antonio Circle facility that are accessible to everyone.

Art "expresses something real that everyone feels," said Covello. "I think we all need that."

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