By Lauren McLemore
For the last 19 years, Thea Foundation has advocated the importance of the arts in the development of our youth through a number of different programs — Thea Art Closet, Arts Reconstruction, student scholarships and fundraisers.
Thea Foundation was named for the daughter of Linda and Paul Leopoulos, Thea Kay Leopoulos, who died in a car accident at 17. Before her death, her parents observed a shift in her schoolwork after her involvement with the arts, through which she thrived academically, socially and emotionally. In her memory, her parents started an art competition for scholarships, founding Thea Foundation in 2001 and awarding the first scholarship the next year. According to the foundation’s 2018-19 Statewide Impact report, more than $2.3 million in scholarships have been awarded to Arkansas students since 2002.
Thea Foundation offers scholarships in visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, film, fashion design and slam poetry. Amanda Seevers, director of communications at Thea Foundation, says that as of 2019, the foundation awards 36 scholarships every spring.
One particular fundraiser, Into The Blue, is a night of celebration filled with entertainment that highlights the success of the foundation’s statewide programs.
“Usually, Into the Blue is a celebration focused on our performing arts scholarship winners, who have gone on to do great things, such as performing on Broadway,” says Seevers.
In the fall, Thea Foundation will also incorporate performances by students who’ve benefited from the Art Closet program at the 2020 Into the Blue.
Another highly anticipated event that Thea Foundation puts on is the Blue Plate Special, which will take place on October 19, 2020. Along with being a fundraiser, the event is a celebration of the culinary arts and includes dishes from notable chefs, wine pairings and entertainment from local artists and musicians.
One of Thea Foundation’s impressive programs, Art Closet, helps to fund projects that students around the state are involved in. When a teacher launches a foundation approved project, the foundation provides up to half of the needed funds upfront, and teachers can share it with friends and colleagues and ask for donations through DonorsChoose, an online platform for corporate and nonprofit donors. When the project is fully funded, DonorsChoose quickly purchases and delivers the supplies directly to the school. The program supports educators all over the state as long as they are in a public school and to date, has led to more than $1.5 million awarded in art supplies to hundreds of underfunded schools across Arkansas.
A 2018-19 year-end report showed that last year, Art Closet awarded $54,835 in art supplies and creative materials for schools, impacting 27,063 students and supporting 117 public school teachers across the state. After matching funds, the total amount awarded was $118,919.
In the past few years, Thea’s Art Closet has grown exponentially.
“In the past year, our growth and available budget for the Art Closet doubled,” says Seevers. “This year, we’re awarding $100,000 to different schools across the state, which we’ve actually almost spent that budget for this school year, because we’ve had so much interest from teachers needing supplies.”
Thea Foundation also offers the Arts Reconstruction program — Thea’s focused effort to provide professional development to public school teachers during a week-long visual arts technique training during the summer at the Windgate Center for Art + Design, located on the UA Little Rock campus.
Participating teachers in the Arts Reconstruction program also are provided with the necessary supplies to implement the new medium they learn at the training. They are to use these in their classrooms during the next school year. In the past, teachers have learned mediums such as cyanotype, jewelry making and this summer will learn raku firing — a Japanese ceramics technique.
More than $45,000 in supplies were funded by Thea Foundation for the teachers who participated in the 2018-19 Arts Reconstruction program to implement the new visual arts medium in their classrooms beginning in the fall semester of 2019.
Thea also has an Art Department exhibition series to connect the community with artists around the state. Seevers says its mission is to engage young arts patrons and to help cultivate a community of arts-focused young professionals that are involved in central Arkansas’s greater arts community.
“Quarterly, we host exhibitions from a different, local artist or collaborative artists in our gallery, and we support the artist through funding a special opening reception for them, including food and beverage, and we usually garner a lot of promotion for their work and bring people in the community to view their art and purchase it,” Seevers says.
Upcoming artists to be featured include Matt White on Sept. 4 and Katie McGowan on Nov. 6.
For loyal supporters of the series, Thea Insiders offers perks for the Art Department series and other events in exchange for an annual gift.
Those who want a more hands-on way of engaging with Thea Foundation may also consider attending their annual community chalk-art event at the Clinton Presidential Library, Thea Paves the Way. The event began in 2005 as the foundation’s first outreach event in an attempt to bring the community together for collaborative art. Happening this year on Sept. 19, teachers, as well as hundreds of students will come from across the state to kick off the first few weeks of the school year by enjoying a morning of sidewalk chart art and learning about the resources available to them through Thea Foundation.
Finally, Thea Foundation also services more schools than just those in central Arkansas.
“In fact, this past academic school year, we funded more projects in the Northwest Arkansas area than we did in central Arkansas,” says Seevers. “A lot of schools in Washington County have known about our offerings and have used our resources for many years.”
The foundation’s impact is large, and the growth is not intended to stop anytime soon.
“Our team continues to evolve our programs to enrich as many young Arkansans as we can through the power of the arts.” says Seevers.