The stage was alive with the sheer excitement of youth and the arts during the gala finale of this year’s Arts Alive program, in Scranton. The special evening, held at the Scranton Cultural Center, featured an art exhibit and musical performances by a troupe of young, regional artists and performers. As they graced the stage, the youths sealed their respective destinies to one day be among the area’s future cultural ambassadors.
The Arts Alive program is a four-week summer school administered by the Northeast Education Intermediate Unit 19 (NEIU) and co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA), Pennsylvania Department of Education, Lackawanna County, the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple, Keystone College, Lackawanna College, Artworks Gallery, and the Ballet Theatre of Scranton. Dr. Catherine Richmond-Cullen, a curriculum specialist with NEIU, serves as program director for the intensive four-week art institute summer program for high school students and educators and a newly added junior division program for students grades 6-8.
This year’s program blossomed through a series of classroom workshops for the nearly 140 students and teachers who participated. The summer program, which featured the theme Roots, provided courses in an array of art programs that included photography, painting, illustration, and mixed media in the visual arts category. Musical theater included vocal, acting skills, dance, theatre, and the junior division in the performing arts.
Arts Alive Program Philosophy
In an exclusive interview with IndependentNEPA, Richmond-Cullen revealed her deep commitment to lifelong and intergenerational education and for her passionate devotion to the exceptional Arts Alive program. Self described as a “mother figure” within the program, Richmond-Cullen noted that the program would not be possible without the support of NEIU Executive Director Dr. David Reese and the board of directors. Along with her relatively small but dedicated staff of program assistants– Jessica Gilhooley and Stefanie Bush– she emphasized that “the first rule of the program was that of respect for self and for others.”
The program consists of a diverse student body that includes not only students from among the 20 member school districts that comprise the NEIU, as well as two exchange students from Gubbio, Italy, but also includes students that might be court mandated by the Lackawanna County Court System. Richmond-Cullen noted that “often students who are court mandated arrive at the program and they are so angry and hurt by their experiences that led them to the program, but through participation they gradually make progress, thus benefiting from the loving atmosphere fostered by the staff and students of the Arts Alive program.”
Arts Alive has received critical acclaim from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as evidenced on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website, where it is listed as a “model” program. The program has also been awarded Best Practices in the Arts in Pennsylvania and is a Regional Summer School of Excellence of the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Richmond-Cullen was emphatic in stressing that Arts Alive “is not a camp, but an intensive and demanding workshop recognized as meeting academic standards by the PA Department of Education. Graduates of the program often return as mentors and assistants, and students that participate in the program often are successful at regional competitions and their portfolios are highly recognized by other institutions.”
Earl Lehman, a full-time, professional, working artist who relocated to Northeastern Pennsylvania several years ago, partnered with Dallas native Leigh Pawling as instructors for the painting course in a classroom provided by the Artworks Gallery, at 503 Lackawanna Avenue, in Scranton.
“Even though our artistic styles are quite different, adherence to basic artistic precepts provides a solid foundation for our classroom collaboration,” Lehman said.
Among the accomplishments that Lehman is most proud of is his 21-year association as a rostered artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in Education.
Lehman described this year’s class “as perhaps the best class–– the most enthusiastic, motivated, and open to learn.” He noted that the students “worked for six hours straight, often foregoing lunch, and were permitted to use the courtyard at Outrageous, 515 Center Street, which provided the feel of a Paris street scene, further inspiring them.”
This year’s Arts Alive “heritage” theme led to an interesting creative dynamic in the painting workshop. Lehman described the progression from personal experience to the “idea to incorporate cultures throughout the world into their artwork”, which progressed into the portrait exhibit in the finale. The paintings included artists such as Mark Rothko, a Russian-born, American abstract expressionist painter; Jackson Pollock, a famous major figure in the abstract expressionist movement; and Claude Monet, a French artist born in 1840 and credited as the founder of French impressionist painting.
“This year, for the first time, our photo class was entirely digital with a new digital photo lab,” said Ivana Pavelka, one of the instructors in the photography classroom held at Keystone College. “It was a great learning experience for the 13 high school students and three teachers who participated in the class. Our assignments included photo shoots at several locations and a lot of pictures of the students’ families, in keeping with the major theme of this year’s Roots program.”
The Performing Arts
In the performing arts category, the very talented sister team of Erin and Maura Malloy served as instructors for the musical theater portion of the program, along with Joanne Arduino, the current artistic director of the Ballet Theatre of Scranton and a rostered artist with the PCA. Erin and Maura are Scranton natives, with an impressive list of artistic accomplishments on their respective resumes. Erin graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, and, upon graduation, began touring the US in A Chorus Line and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and has appeared in a number of regional theatre presentations. Erin has also sung backup for many well-known singers, such as Beyonce and Josh Groban, and performs locally in clubs throughout the region. Maura is a freelance director/choreographer, actor, and educator based in New York City. She is also a rostered artist with the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and has studied classical acting at the Royal National Theater in London and dance at the Graham and Ailey schools in NYC.
For this year’s program, Erin “was responsible for the music, including arranging each of the songs and selecting the soloists, while instructing them in the foundations of singing and technique.” In teaching the students, she noted that her motivation and satisfaction were in blending together the giant choir of 65 students, and, with the junior division, a total of 85 students.
“Watching each student blossom and seeing their confidence grow is so rewarding to me,” she said. “I am a big supporter and teacher of making a song your own. Everyone sings the same songs, so it’s how YOU sing it that’s important to me.”
One of the strengths of Arts Alive has been in its wide community support, as represented by the number of local institutions that partner with it to make it the successful program that it is. Stefanie Bush, who serves both as a program assistant for the Arts Alive program and is a staff member at the Scranton Cultural Center, serving as the Center’s education coordinator, discussed the broad range of partnerships enjoyed by the program and spoke to the special relationship that exists between the program and the Scranton Cultural Center.
“There was an effort to keep the visual and performing arts together,” she said. “The Center has been generous in providing classroom space for the program and in hosting the final exhibit and performance. It has been an honor to work on the collaboration between Arts Alive and all of our community partners.”
Although the Arts Alive program is sponsored by the NEIU and its partners, funding issues continue to be a challenge for education, and particularly for arts education programs. Arts Alive is in need of funding to be able to continue to provide the educational services that it has featured over the years. Richmond-Cullen noted that the State budget for this fiscal year cut spending by 23%, following a 60% decrease for the arts in the last budget.
The community needs to continue to support Arts Alive and its partners in retaining and strengthening this vital program, providing quality education in the arts to the region’s youth. The value of that investment will be exhibited in the cultural benefits that the students and faculty will continue to contribute to enriching regional culture.
For additional information on Arts Alive, contact Dr. Catherine Richmond-Cullen at (570) 876-9223 or