Most folks around Asheville know LEAF as the twice-yearly Lake Eden Arts Festival, but that’s only one-third of the story. The local nonprofit actually has three major branches: the festival, LEAF International and Leaf in Schools & Streets. Leaf International partners with schools and orphanages in seven countries to establish music programs there. Leaf in Schools & Streets operates similar programs in Asheville-area schools.
“We are very fortunate here in Asheville,” says Jocelyn Reese, who directs the latter program. “We have a wealth of local artists who want to be involved with our youth. Since 1995, thousands of school kids have taken part in programs ranging from drumming to hip-hop dancing, from circus arts to theater arts, from slam poetry to screenwriting. Some of the first participants are now leading classes and volunteering, and some even have kids headed for the programs, making it a multigenerational arts movement.
Reese, who took over as the program’s third director earlier this year, is upbeat about its future. “Sure, there are more needs than we can fill, but we keep growing and moving forward.”
Some Schools & Streets participants get a chance to perform at the spring and fall festivals. And thanks to a partnership with the Asheville City Schools, 40 more performed at the closing assembly for the summer session. All told, the LEAF program provided a wide range of age-appropriate, hands-on arts activities for 50 of the 130 summer school students.
Local artists are the backbone of the Schools & Streets program. Chuck Beattie (blues) and David LaMotte (folk) will do residencies this fall; there’ll also be teachers and workshop leaders from farther afield. Kinobe (from Uganda) will do a five-day residency in African drumming and dance, and Sol Driven Train (out of Charleston, S.C.) and Shringara Nepal will each present a three-day world-beat class.
In addition, Schools & Streets brings in artists from abroad whom LEAF International has mentored. “This year at the festival,” notes Reese, “our group from Guatemala will make their first visit to the U.S. We’re very excited to see them perform.” Currently, LEAF International has programs in Bequia (a Caribbean island), Guatemala, Mexico, India, Panama, Rwanda and Tanzania, with plans for another one in Haiti.
Something else that’s new for LEAF this year is the nonprofit’s home base: a suite of offices on the lower level of the William Randolph School on Montford Avenue. Since moving there earlier this year, the Schools & Streets staff has gotten more involved with Randolph’s roughly 50 students, most of whom are drawn from Asheville Middle School and Asheville High.
|LEAF in Schools & Streets participant 8th-grader Thomas Berg at last spring’s festival.|
Assistant Principal Fletcher Comer says he’s thrilled to have LEAF in-house. “They started with the Enrichment Fridays in the last school year,” he explains. “This involves kids getting hands-on experience with playing, recording and mixing music, which is something they love to do. It’s been very popular. LEAF is a resource our students need; having them more involved with the students can only lead to great things for them.”
And as local schools gear up again this month, kids across WNC will be studying LEAF’s class offerings, dreaming of their moment in the spotlight.