PITTSBORO — More students in Chatham County will have an opportunity to learn and experience live performance art with the expansion of the Artists-in-Schools program to middle school students. As part of National Arts in Education Week, the Chatham County Arts Council announced the commencement of the ninth season of its program putting artists in classrooms. The new school year marks a milestone for the Artists-in-Schools Initiative as it has expanded its residency program to a traditional middle school.
According to the Arts Council, professional teaching artists will teach in all of the elementary schools and Chatham Middle School this year. The program aligns with the core curriculum at the schools and includes theater, music, dance and poetry.
Pierce Freelon, a Grammy Award-nominated musician, will be making his debut on the Artists-in-Schools with a ten-day residency at Chatham Middle School. Freelon was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2022 for this children’s album “Black to the Future,” which explores Afrofuturism.
Freelon is also the co-creator of the Beat Making Lab, an Emmy Award-winning PBS web series, and founder of Blackspace, a digital makerspace “for youth in his community to find radical Black creativity, visionary storytelling and emerging technology, ‘by any medium necessary.’”
According to the Blackspace web site, the group offers “Black and Brown youth (Afronauts) a breathing space to manifest their dreams.” The group offers “African-centered events & rituals” and says it will “harness Dark Energy to nurture the Black Whole.”
Freelon, along with U.S. Dept. of State Hip Hop Ambassador Kevin “Rowdy” Rowsey II, lead Blackspace as Chief Dreamer and Executive Director, respectively. The group offers programming called “Wokeshops” in topics ranging from rap and puppetry to coding and 3D printing.
The Chatham Arts Council has promoted teaching artists in Chatham County schools since 2015. The program began with just two elementary schools with the ultimate objective of extending its presence into every public school in the county annually.
"The arts didn't just enter my life; the arts actually saved my life," said Dr. Anthony Jackson, Chatham County Schools Superintendent in a press release from the Arts Council.
Each teaching artist integrates their art form into the core curriculum. Black Box Dance Theatre developed educational raps with topics including the Revolutionary War and Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
Along with Freelon and Blackspace, the artist program will feature theatre artist Mike Wiley, modern dance company Black Box Dance Theatre, West African musician and storyteller Diali Cissokho, N.C. poet and educator Phillip Shabazz, Spanish dance company Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, Modern dance company Gaspard&Dancers, The Magic of African Rhythm, a group focusing on the African concept of Ngoma.