By Juli Goetz Morser
For Vashon Center for the Arts
Vashon Center for the Arts Director of Education Wendy Finkleman returned to work this week thanks to a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The arts center applied for and received the grant after Finkleman and other staff members were let go in June due to constraints from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Finkleman loves her job and deeply believes in what arts education programs can do for Vashon’s students and working artists. Arts education is one of the five main program areas at VCA, including Vashon Artists in School, Vashon Center for Dance, visual arts and performance arts.
“One of the joys of my job is working with teaching artists who make their living through art,” she said. “I’m happy to be back at work collaborating with teaching artists and talented staff to deliver our arts education programming in creative ways. I have so enjoyed working with the VCA team through the years and that continues to be the case.”
With a master’s degree in education and having been raised by an artist, Finkleman said her work is a “perfect blend of arts and administration.” Ten years ago, she became the director after Janice Mallman, who created the program, retired. Since then, Finkleman has grown arts education at VCA, establishing an online registration system and broadening the pool of teaching artists and classes offered, which now range from the visual arts of ceramics, drawing, and photography, to Suzuki music lessons, musical theater and the Late Start Program. Last year, pre-COVID, VCA offered between 90 and 100 classes and camps, enrolling up to 900 students of all ages and abilities.
Finkleman said VCA has been working in concert with the school district, taking its lead, in planning the fall programming, and is now poised to support students with after school, online and outdoor activities. Finkleman’s experience and leadership, according to VCA’s executive director, Allison Halstead Reid, is crucial in helping adapt the arts education classes to online teaching, and to discover new opportunities created by the unprecedented and swift changes.
“The support of the National Endowment for the Arts could not come at a more critical time than now. Truly. With our programs greatly affected by the pandemic, having Wendy’s position covered so she can return and do the work to adapt our educational programs for online offerings and explore greater outdoor learning opportunities is a gift,” Halstead Reid said.
VCA’s arts programs both complement and add another dimension to the education of Vashon students, according to Finkleman, who believes one of the most powerful aspects of the program has been to create a “home away from home.” Similar to the VCA dance program, students take multiple weekly classes and in the process form important friendships and new skill sets, developing confidence in areas different from the school setting.
To keep those weekly connections going when students cannot gather at the Blue Heron Education Center, Finkleman said she and the teaching artists are “continuing to creatively brainstorm ways to deliver programming to kids and adults.” They are currently working on a project called “Alice in Vashonland,” a virtual musical theater production that includes a dance element, a production class, and creative, campy input — with Vashon references — from students. It will be filmed onsite at various island locations and then live-streamed.
“The arts provide a big benefit for students,” Finkleman said. “Some come alive and blossom when they discover their passion through academics, but some do not. They may do well in school, but there’s no passion or blossoming. We’ve seen the arts really do that for a lot of students.”