Street SMARTS: Art School Survives Defunding

In October, it was announced that funding for Students Motivated by the Arts, also known as SMARTS, would be cut from Youngstown State University’s budget. SMARTS officially disbanded on December 3. However, last month SMARTS announced that it will transition into the community, continuing to provide art programming for area students without the help of university funds.

Since SMARTS’s separation from the university, the community has financially supported the program, having raised more than $18,000 in cash and $51,000 in gift-in-kind donations for the school.

When affiliated with YSU, SMARTS offered classes in visual arts, music, dance and creative writing for area students in grades K-12. Becky Keck, SMARTS executive director, ensured that the school will continue to provide these services.

“SMARTS in the only art school in the region that covers all of the arts,” she said.

As local school districts continue to experience financial struggles, cuts have been made to their budgets, and art programs have been defunded.

Keck maintained that public schools’ failure to support the arts has made SMARTS’s mission particularly relevant, stating that art education remains “critical.”

“I don’t know we could all be drones. Why do we honor arts? It makes us human,” she said. “It’s critical to culture.”

Though no longer funded by the university, SMARTS has upheld a relationship with YSU students.

“There exists a network of recent graduates and current YSU students who were moved by their experiences with SMARTS, and these people are already working hard to be advocates of the good work SMARTS does for the youth in this area,” said Heather Seno, a senior fine arts major who has served as a teacher for SMARTS.

Seno positively commented on SMARTS’s decision to transition into a community art school.

“The youth in this area need an art school like SMARTS to help build their confidence and foster their artistic curiosity.  SMARTS being separate from YSU will lead to more opportunities for networking and utilizing the skills and talents from people currently making art in this community,” she said.

Seno also said art education will bolster the area’s cultural literacy.

“Whenever the arts are prevalent in a community, that community takes pride in the area and works harder to preserve that cultural experience,” Seno said. “The community showing their support for SMARTS means that they know how important this is for the enrichment of their youth and inevitably for the future of this area.”

Though SMARTS has not yet established a permanent location for its art classes, a press release issued by the school indicated that art programming will resume this fall.

“A business plan is currently underway and whether or not there is a permanent site by this fall, SMARTS will be programming in some capacity,” the release states.