Farewell to SMARTS

In October, it was announced that funding for Students Motivated by the Arts, or SMARTS, would be cut from the budget for fiscal year 2014. This budget cut affects more than just the few staff members employed by grant money and money supplemented by the university. SMARTS officially disbanded on December 3.

SMARTS offered over 50 hours per week of programming for local children, YSU students and employment for staff members.

Initially, SMARTS started out to supply fine arts and musical education after school for at-risk children in the inner city. It evolved and grew as suburban school districts began to cut funding for their arts programs.

SMARTS also provided experience for YSU students, both paid and unpaid, to interact and teach children before enrolling in their mandatory student teaching. It was an opportunity to gain confidence and hone their skills before they were graded in mandatory, real world experiences in school districts all over the Youngstown area.

Leslie Cusano, the programming coordinator for SMARTS said, “Four [university] students will lose paid positions and twelve paid or unpaid teachers will be without interaction with local children.”

Ed Davis, who ran SMARTS Beats, the percussion track of the program, said, “Over 30 violins, 15 keyboards, two baby grand pianos, three upright bass, $8,000 worth of new percussion equipment and $12,000.00 worth of percussion equipment made available through previous grants will now go unused.”

In the SMARTS space formerly located in the Deyor Performing Arts Center in downtown Youngstown, Cusano and other SMARTS participants used to provide area students with books, art supplies and an afterschool snack, which she purchased weekly as part of the free programs they offered.

The Deyor space had been remodeled for SMARTS in 2003, creating an 8,000 square foot space. The rent was paid for by grant money. At the end of summer, that money ran out and SMARTS employees and volunteers had to move the aforementioned equipment into a small storage space in Todd hall.

SMARTS also ran programs at Summit Academy for special needs children and those with behavioral problems.

Aside from the programs regularly run by SMARTS, they participated in many community events, such as First Night Youngstown, holding an open house on New Year’s for the children and parents who participated in their programs. They were also a part of the Youngstown Holiday Parade and YSU’s summer festival of the arts, where Davis held an open drum circle.

SMARTS, which raised over $2 million in its sixteen years of existence, was constantly expanding and affecting more demographics every year. Fall of 2011 brought the creation of Green Skies, Blue Trees, a program that was funded by a $10,000.00 grant from PNC bank. It connected preschool children and Art Education students from YSU.

“The Art Education students did projects and showed them how to incorporate more arts into the curriculum,” Cusano said. “Last year was our busiest year.”

The program was ranked ‘Top 50 Afterschool Art Programs in the Country’, twice. It was also given the ‘Children’s Advocate Award’ by the Akron Children’s Hospital.

“The SMARTS education program was the most culturally significant offering our youth had in the area, with reciprocal benefits to the students and instructors alike. It’s a shame that funding was removed for such a meaningful program. It is sadly missed by all who participated,” said Simon Kenneally, a program instructor for SMARTS.