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Exploring the Arts
New program develops children's inner characters

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

A new program in Clayton County is taking a unique approach to arts instruction, searching for children who may very well be the next Peggy Parish, Charles M. Schulz or Tyler Perry.

The Art Explorers program, a joint venture between Arts Clayton and the Clayton County Parks and Recreation department, opened for auditions this week. The program, made possible through a grant from the Community Foundation of Atlanta, allows children ages 8-14 to bring their inner visions to life by exploring the mediums of drawing, acting, singing and dancing.

Felicia Warner, an instructor for the program, said the program is the first of its kind in Clayton County. The concept, she said, is to develop characters, derived from the imagination of students, and turn those characters into books, screenplays, comic strips and films.

"Our children have active imaginations," said Warner. "As a child, you come up with these characters, but nobody helps you develop those characters. We are going to take their characters and give them a voice. Think of all the Charles Schulzes we may have in our community."

On Wednesday, students auditioning for the program at the Virginia Burton Gray Recreation Center, had their drawings, acting skills, and singing critiqued by local art instructors.

Robert Bunda, an art instructor at Church Street Elementary and one of the program's instructors, said many of the county's elementary schools lack instruction in dance, song, and other art forms. He said Art Explorers introduces children to artistic skills that may be outside of their usual experience.

"The age group of kids we are targeting, they don't get too much exposure to performing arts," said Bunda. "Rather than brining someone in and making them focus on something they might already be good at, they get to explore. It shows the connection between everything, how visual art connects to theatrical art.

"Even if they don't walk away wanting to pursue a degree in performance, they have tried it and they have that exposure," she said.

Johnnelle Terrell of Riverdale, whose 7-year-old daughter, Arie, tried out for the program on Wednesday, said the program may help develop her daughter's various interests.

"She likes a little bit of everything," Terrell said. "I think it will fit her personality because she has a piano and she'll play and compose songs. I hope that she feels like there is an outlet for her to express her creativity outside of the home."

The program is currently offered at the Virginia Burton Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale and the Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex. For more information, contact Arts Clayton at (770) 473-5457.