Arts at Cowley College benefiting from Wilkins Foundation Grant

05262015jazz_initiativeSupporting the Arkansas City area art environment, the late Virginia J. Wilkins established the Wilkins Foundation Grant prior to her death in 2012 to provide “a quality cultural environment of arts, music, language and other endeavors. As a result of the grant, Cowley College was one of seven Arkansas City organizations awarded grant disbursements in 2014 for the enhancement of arts-related activities.

Cowley College was awarded $72,330 to finance vocal and musical arts, including a jazz initiative to attract visiting guest artists, marketing equipment needs, and materials for seminars and workshops for Cowley College. They also were able to purchase graphic design equipment for the visual arts and provide assistance for the school’s theater program.

According to Cowley College theatre director John Sefel, the Wilkins Foundation Grant was the primary funding source that allowed the school to take more than 20 students to Louisville, KY to the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Sefel describes the festival as “basically the theatrical equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival — it’s where the newest and most exciting plays debut, and it’s a great chance to bump elbows with professionals from throughout the industry.

There were all kinds of great moments–like when Cowley sophomore Malaree Hood’s favorite actress from the TV show “Orange is the New Black” appeared in one of the plays, and Hood was able to ask her questions after the performance, or when several of the school’s top technical theatre students were able to meet individually with the festival’s technical team.

“Although seeing four amazing world-premiere productions was a great experience by itself, I think getting to make these connections and gaining a first-hand look at exactly how professional theatre operates was an educational experience that our students desperately need, and one we couldn’t have given them without the Wilkins Foundation,” Sefel said.

Also through the support of the Wilkins Foundation, the college has been able to create “Advanced Stagecraft” as a new course offering and was able to start a pilot attempt at the class during the spring semester. The long-term goals for the class include applying technical theatre skills to non-theatrical settings, including fabrication and design for theme parks, children’s play areas, commercial expo centers, and more.

“People with skills in theatrical design are being employed in industries far beyond traditional theatre spaces,” Sefel said. “From lighting design in concert venues and tech-savvy churches to creating interactive displays and installations for commercial and advertising needs, people skilled in lighting, costume, scenic, and props design are increasingly in demand. This class is designed to give our students hands-on experience and portfolio credit in exactly these kinds of in-demand skills.”

The Cowley College music programs recently received $27,000 in grant money from the V.J. Wilkins Foundation. According to Director of Instrumental Music, Josh Fleig, the funds will be used to strengthen and broaden the applied studies offerings for both instrumental and vocal students at Cowley and to establish the Cowley College Jazz Initiative.

“We are incredibly grateful to the V.J. Wilkins Foundation for this enormously generous gift,” Fleig said. “We are putting these funds to good use by continuing and expanding our private music instruction efforts to our students here at Cowley. We also plan to further our promotion of jazz music by offering clinics and workshops and by bringing in local and regional guest artists.”

The applied studies program at Cowley provides weekly private music lessons to approximately 60 instrumental and vocal students each semester. These private lessons are taught by full time Cowley faculty as well as additional adjunct faculty.

“There is no way the Cowley music program would flourish as it has without our applied studies program,” Fleig said. “We are very grateful that through this grant from the Wilkins Foundation we will be able to continue to educate our students in this essential way.”

Cowley music students will begin benefitting from the $12,000 applied studies grant in the fall semester of 2015. The Cowley music programs also received a $15,000 grant which has been used to establish the Cowley College Jazz Initiative. The mission of the Cowley College Jazz Initiative is to promote the art of jazz music in Cowley County and the surrounding area by providing educational experiences to students and teachers, presenting professional jazz artists in concert, and expanding the jazz audience within the community.

“The Jazz Initiative is a dream come true,” Fleig said. “With this generous grant we are going to be able to reach out to so many students and community members through the amazing art of jazz.”

The Jazz Initiative’s first guest artist was the Mary Beth Quintet, led by local talent Mary Beth Byers. The group opened Cowley’s final jazz concert of the school year on Tuesday, April 28. The big event in the fall semester will be a performance by guest artists, the Doug Talley Quartet. Talley, a well-established jazz talent of the Kansas City area, will bring his quartet to Cowley on Friday, November 13.

Fleig is looking forward to bringing the Doug Talley Quartet to Cowley.

“This event in November will be an amazing opportunity for our students here at Cowley as well as high school students in the area,” Fleig said. “We will have an entire day of clinics and jam sessions led by members of the Doug Talley Quartet and Cowley faculty members. The day will be capped off by a great concert in the evening.”

Cowley College has also recently created the Wilkins Foundation Scholarship & Brown Center Internship.

As of this fall, the college will offer a new scholarship, creating an internship for a student interested in venue management and technical theatre. This position will not only allow the college to create new educational opportunities for students, but will help provide additional benefits and services to all who use the Brown Center.

“The Brown Center is an amazing resource for our area, but under the current funding situation, it’s been difficult to really take advantage of its full potential for our students, visiting groups, and audiences,” Sefel said. “The generosity of the Wilkins Foundation has given us the seed money to begin building a team of student interns who will, with advanced training and responsibilities, help us utilize the Brown Center–the area’s premiere performance space–to its fullest potential, and give a better overall experience to everyone who comes out to use this treasured part of our community.”

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