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Timmons Arts Foundation checks in with Chicot Elementary, the 1st recipient of the TAF Arts & Music Grant

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By Spencer Watson

Whether a rare sketch by Leonardo da Vinci or a drawing by Little Johnny on the refrigerator, all art has a way of being priceless. However, that doesn’t mean it comes without a cost. Especially in a school in which art classes are happening all the time.

“So much artwork is done every single day,” said I.J. Routen, elementary fine arts coordinator for the Little Rock School District. “And the supplies are disposable…. I cannot even tell you how many black Sharpies our elementary teachers go through in a year.”

So help on that front is always welcomed with open arms, said Routen. Whether a paper company that cuts a run of sheets a quarter inch too short and has to unload them or a box of old crayons that can be melted down and recast, Routen accepts any offerings. As such, she said she was particularly delighted to be the recipient of a 2012 grant from the Timmons Arts Foundation that enabled a bulk purchase of all kinds of supplies.

“Paints, papers, left-handed scissors,” said Routen of the kinds of things the funds enabled her to stock up on and dole out. “The teachers were especially happy about those.”

Owing to greater need, the bulk of the supplies went to southwest Little Rock’s Chicot Elementary, where they helped fuel the school’s arts programs, which feeds into larger Watson Intermediate.

Routen said she met Theresa Timmons of the foundation through the district’s Artistry in the Rock event, where Timmons saw projects from throughout the district on display and asked how the foundation could help.

“I said art supplies right away,” Routen recalled. While recognition of the importance art education plays in student development is growing, she said, awareness the expense of maintaining art programs isn’t always fully understood.

“Yes, people want art, but they sometimes don’t understand the expense of it,” she said. “They don’t think of it as recurring, how much paper costs, how much crayons cost, how much markers cost.”

And while the Timmons Arts Foundations and other nonprofits can help mitigate those expenses, it’s those costs that endanger arts programs. And that’s not always something recognized by nonprofit organizations offering grants. They may fund new programs and furnish an artist in residence, but rare is the gift that just helps stretch the supplies budget. And Routen know how to to stretch.

“Nothing is wasted, because we don’t know when we’ll get that money again,” she explained. “No art teacher will give their kids more than one sheet of paper to start a project. If they mess up, they turn it over. Reduce, reuse, recycle. That’s what we do.

“We don’t always go out asking” for a donation, said Routen, “but people should know we’re willing to accept it. Any paper company? Send it to us. We’ll say thank you very much, because, yes, we can use it.”

Much like the end product, that kind of help is priceless.