The Buzz: TAPAS program brings a sampling of local artists into the classroom

An innovative partnership between the Asheville City Schools Foundation, LEAF in Schools & Streets and the UNCA Craft Campus aims to expand experiential art education in local classrooms. In July, the partners launched a new program,Teaching Artists Presenting in Asheville Schools (TAPAS), which taught local visual and performing artists how to conduct workshops that fit within the state curriculum.

Now it’s time for the next step: pairing those participants with teachers and providing financial support to facilitate 60 artist residencies throughout the school year.

At the heart of the program is the idea that exposing students to the creative arts can inspire them to get excited about learning, says Asheville City School Foundation Co-Director Leah Ferguson.

"The integration of arts really assists that kind of transformation by allowing kids to do something with their hands, think about problem solving in different ways, find their voice — there's perspective broadening, they learn about other cultures, they learn about their own potential abilities," she explains. "That just increases student engagement, and student engagement is the key to student success in school, and really in life."

With the local school system facing increasingly tight budgets, the independently funded program is needed now more than ever, Ferguson notes. "We're seeing things eliminated all over, and the foundation is really trying to hold the line in terms of trying to make sure our students aren't feeling the impacts of budget cuts at a state and national level," she says.

Ferguson also points out that the workshops will be particularly suited to benefit the students who are most vulnerable to those cuts: the 20 percent of Asheville school-system children who live below the poverty line.

"They're not going to extracurricular things after school; their parents can't afford arts programs, or other kinds of things where there's private instruction," she observes. "So this is an opportunity for them to have access to that kind of thing in school and figure out what they're capable of and get excited about learning."

In addition to benefiting students, organizers hope the program will help participating artists expand their skill sets and earn income. To raise money to pay the artists for their workshops, the partnership will host a Thursday, Aug. 26, fundraiser at Santé Wine Bar. The event will feature a wine tasting and a performance by local soul, R&B and funk-fusing band, Secret B-Sides.

The wine bar will also debut a "Local Yokel" cheese board that features cheese from Looking Glass Creamery and Dee Dee Lee Cheese, as well as smoked trout from Sunburst Trout Farms in Candler. The cheese board will be available at Santé through September, with a percentage of all proceeds going to TAPAS.

LEAF Outreach Director Loraine Martin says they've already raised about $3,000 for the program but hope to double that figure to fully fund the 60 residencies. "It's local schools and local businesses. There's the whole 'buy local' campaign — we wanted people to buy local artists, for our schools," she reveals.

TAPAS recently put together a catalogue of 29 artists who completed the training and is now accepting applications from K-12 teachers to bring them into classrooms. Certified artists range from singers and musicians to sculptors, thespians, storytellers and even puppeteers such as Nina Ruffini, who says she thinks the program will provide "a much needed link between the artists of the area and the local schools.

"The initiative to create an outlet for more art in our schools' curriculum is a brilliant effort to facilitate more arts training in the lives of our children."

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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