Butler Community Arts School Director Karen Thickstun has been honored as one of United Way of Central Indiana’s 100 Heroes for her efforts to grow the arts education program from 180 students in 2002 to more than 2,000 in 2016–2017.
The 100 Heroes awards are being given to 100 people from the Central Indiana community who have made a positive impact over the last 100 years.
“I appreciate the opportunity to share with the community what the Butler Community Arts School is all about,” Thickstun said. “This is nice recognition for Butler, for the Community Arts School, for the Butler students who are doing something in the community. This isn’t about one person. It is about one person plus staff and faculty and Butler students and community partners that have been with us from the very beginning.”
The Butler Community Arts School (BCAS) provides affordable arts instruction to the Indianapolis community—people like Kennon Ward, who is now Assistant Music Director of The Salvation Army’s Phil Ramone Orchestra for Children in New York—and enables Butler students to hone their teaching skills. BCAS offers private lessons, group classes, camps, and off-campus community programming.
Last year, 59 percent of the BCAS students taking lessons received a scholarship, and minority enrollment accounted for 53 percent.
The BCAS program was the vision of Peter Alexander, then Dean of the Jordan College of Fine Arts, who had started a similar community arts school at the University of Southern Mississippi. Alexander “saw the potential for using college students as the primary instructors and making inroads into the community with that dynamic,” Thickstun said.
Alexander approached Thickstun with the idea in January 2002. At the time, Butler’s only music instruction for the community was a piano camp. With the help of Arts Administration Professor Susan Zurbuchen, Thickstun secured a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to provide need-based scholarships to students who wanted music lessons but could not afford them.
By September 2002, BCAS was up and running.
“It was a leap of faith by the Indiana Arts Commission because they were funding something that didn’t exist yet,” she said. “But Butler had credibility, and the Jordan College of Fine Arts had credibility, and I’m assuming they saw the potential.”
The Indiana Arts Commission has renewed that grant every year since. Last year, BCAS received grants totaling more than $113,000 from the Indiana Arts Commission, the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, The Indianapolis Foundation, Summer Youth Program Fund, and the Lilly Endowment. Some 90 percent of the grant money goes to provide student need-based scholarships.
The program also now has:
-Thirteen community partners serving more than 800 students with music, visual arts, dance, and theatre programs. The Martin Luther King Center, Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, Auntie Mame Child Development Center, and Christel House Academy have all been community partners since the beginning.
-Sixteen summer camps serving over 600 students ages 7 and older. The camps include a summer ballet intensive that will be expanded to four weeks beginning in 2018, as well as theatre and music programs. A new guitar camp will debut in 2018.
-Nine group class programs—including Guitar for Young Bulldogs, Youth Theatre, and Children’s Orchestra—serving more than 200 students ages 5 and older.
-Nine areas of private lessons serving over 400 students ages 5 and up. Lessons are available in piano, strings, voice, woodwinds, brass, percussion, guitar, music theory, and composition.
“I’m proud that Butler has stood behind the program for 16 years and continued to support it,” Thickstun said. “Butler has recognized that it provides community engagement for the University students, in addition to all the good that it does for the children in the community.”