NWA Education Series: Arkansas Arts Academy Unveils New Design Lab

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ArtAcademySince 2001, the Arkansas Arts Academy has grown into the second largest charter school in the state. The school offers programs from kindergarten through 12th grade, with open enrollment for any child within the Northwest Arkansas area. In addition to a strong academic curriculum, students are trained in mediums of art, drama, music and design.

“We have the best waiting list we’ve ever had,” says Mary Ley, CEO of the academy. The excitement is evident in her voice. The first day of school is just around the corner, and the Arkansas Arts Academy staff has just completed professional development training from the Arkansas A+ Schools network. 

“We have 35% new staff high caliber art specialists who were recruited to come here just to raise the bar,” Ley says. 

Raising the bar seems to be continually on the Arkansas Art Academy’s agenda. With an upcoming renovation from architect Marlon Blackwell and a new design program, the academy is looking forward to an exciting new year.

ArtAcademy_RenderingInside the computer lab at the Arkansas Arts Academy high school, Director of Fine Arts Eddie Smith is busy unpacking 15 brand new computer systems. “We actually went and sought out advice on the best way to get kids on the next level,” Smith explains, “We went to Peter MacKeith at the U of A and asked him, ‘How can we better prepare our students for the world?’”

After a year of planning and with a brand new, grant funded computer lab high school students at the Arkansas Arts Academy now have the opportunity to learn the Adobe Creative Suite. The initial stages of the design program, Smith says, will largely be geared to helping students acclimate to the new software. More advanced 3D design programs will also be introduced to the curriculum, allowing students to apply their knowledge to the fields of interior design, interior decorating and architecture.

ArtAcademy_Computers“Architecture will be a big emphasis this year,” Ley says, before mentioning plans for future field trips to the Frank Lloyd Wright New Jersey house, which is scheduled to open this fall at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

With Crystal Bridges as a backyard resource, the opportunities for art integrated learning are ever growing. The museum’s artwork is used to inspire English essays, and its trails are the subject of science lessons. Parents are invited to participate in the discovery process through “Night at the Museum” art trips where museum sponsored “art interpreters” facilitate discussion between parents and students.

As a museum school, a large part of the academy’s curriculum is working hand in hand with Crystal Bridges to engage not only the students, but their families as a whole. 

“We have a goal that 90% of our students’ families will visit the museum outside of normal school hours,” Ley says, “and we will be hosting several educational experiences that are beyond the classroom to create family learning.”

But the main goal, Ley says, is to be an artintegrated school as well as a performing arts school, where all students will have the opportunity to master an art. “We want all of our students to graduate and attend the finest art colleges or become lifelong advocate of the arts,” she says.

You can learn more about the Arkansas Arts Academy by visiting their new website: www.artsk12.org

Last modified onTuesday, 15 March 2016 13:25