Where politicians fear to tread

Farrell Scott

Photo By Larry Dalton

It’s no secret that arts education is an endangered expense in state and federal budgets. Farrell Scott, a Sacramento native who studied performing arts through college, has watched this trend with growing alarm. “Because of what’s happening in schools, the diminishing budgets and the arts programs being cut, cut, cut, we thought, ‘There’s got to be an answer somehow,’” she said. “That was the force behind the founding of Hemispheres Arts Academy.”

Two years after its inception, Scott is now the executive director of an experiment in community-supported arts education. Hemispheres, located in a two-story stone building donated by the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) at 1619 N Street, is home to a series of tuition-free arts classes for children and a monthly Second Saturday showing of student art. Run entirely by donations, the academy’s offerings are growing as fast as its student body. Looks like art might be a priority after all.

What’s the history of Hemispheres?

The founder, Robert Fong [current president of the SCUSD’s Board of Education], and a group of volunteers got it started with a Second Saturday presentation two years ago. They opened the doors to the public and introduced the idea of Hemispheres. That summer, they held the first art workshops to test community response. It was decided this was something that was needed, but, if it was going to happen, they needed a staff person to organize it. I came on board in December 2001 and was given the concept.

Which is?

It’s a tuition-free arts program open to, well, originally it was seventh- through 12th-grade students. It was not only tuition-free, but the materials fees would also be waived. However, in our pilot programs, we discovered a completely free program was too loosey-goosey. Kids were thinking, “It’s free. I don’t really need to be there.” Attendance wasn’t good. We put a materials fee in place to give a sense of ownership. Those are really nominal. They vary according to class, but they’re no more than $20.

The other part of the concept was that all the instructors would be, first and foremost, professional artists but would also have teaching experience. Also, the artists would be paid. We’re not supporting the starving-artist theory. We recognize that the combination of art and teaching skills is not an easy one to find.

What kinds of classes are offered?

We’re starting with a core visual and performing-art curriculum. We’re working with painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. Musically, we’ve done some work with instruments but primarily with composition. Also, we have dance and acting. As we grow, we’d like to bring in cultural art forms—things like Taiko Dan drumming, Chinese brush painting, flamenco dancing. We’d especially like to represent the cultures we have here in Sacramento. That’s how we got the name “Hemispheres.” Art is a universal language that travels across cultures.

Do you have family classes?

We have Saturday workshops where kids can bring their families and do hands-on art together.

Who is eligible to attend Hemispheres?

Children in Sacramento County who are in private school, public school or home school—as long as they’re in school. We are now serving fourth through 12th grade. We’d like to get [kindergarten] through 12th, but it depends on our funding. Right now, we’re open-enrollment. Some of our kids have never taken an art class, and others have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to it. A lot of people ask if we directly target a certain income level or “at risk” kids. We’ve decided we’re not going to do that. Every child is welcome because we want to bring a melting pot of students here. That’s part of the experience—meeting kids they’d never otherwise meet because they’re coming from all over the county.

How is it funded?

Our start-up came from the Maloof family. We were granted their George J. Maloof Sr. Community Cup, which is an annual gift they give to community organizations. Because we are a nonprofit, we rely on donations and people who want to get involved by volunteering goods and services. Just recently, we received quite a few cameras from Cosumnes River College’s photography department. Art Ellis is constantly donating canvases and other materials. Our real focus is getting people involved locally. Until we have a three-year track record, we’re not eligible for state and federal funding.

What are some of the more memorable classes you’ve held here?

We offered a black-and-white photography class in the spring, but we don’t have a darkroom. We made a closet into a light-safe room where kids could go and roll their film into tanks to be processed. We were able to get light-safe tanks, so the kids could come out of the darkness and develop the film. So, we held a film-developing lesson, even though we didn’t have the facility yet.

As for memorable instructors, we’ve had three since the beginning—Patricia Wood and Daphne Burgess for fine arts and Harley White for music. They’ve been wonderful. I’ve got 10 instructors this summer. I’ve had many other artists contact us, to see how they can get involved, and I tell them, "As soon as we grow …"