Where the heART Is – Public Schools and Nonprofits Partner on heARTS Programs

By Anna Miller

Their words and images may develop to convey the new story of our city, in our art galleries and on our stages; their dedication may lead them to become Buffalo’s next b-boy or dancing queen. Whichever direction these students’ dreams may lead, a new after-school program in the Buffalo Public Schools is helping them take flight.

Clearly a program after my own beating blood-pumper, “heARTS” is an after-school initiative of the Buffalo Public Schools Art Education department that works with nonprofit partners –  Western New York Book Arts Collaborative and Young Audiences of Western New York – to allow interested students the opportunity to experience art from the hands of experts.

The students from throughout the district gather several times a week, long after the last bell has rang, to explore the arts through specialized programs in dance, theater, or visual arts. It enables them to connect to their interests, and themselves, in a way that isn’t as available during the long and often hectic school days.

“Perhaps the most direct result of this is, if the students are bored in school, which is an unfortunate reality, it gives them more of a reason to stick it out. You have to come to school to be involved after school,” explained Cynnie Gaasch, executive director of Young Audiences of WNY.

“But most importantly, this program gives students the opportunity to explore themselves, to be more of who they are, and to think about their future in more creative ways,” she said. “There are students in the district who are just oozing with talent, have an outgoing nature, and are looking for opportunities to explore these things, which there aren’t so many of in the school day.”

Papermaking with WNY Book Arts

As a key player in heARTS pilot year, Young Audiences created the pilot programs in theater and dance to enable interested students to explore screenwriting, improv, dance, and movement. Working with professional artists from the local theater scene, the students get an inside glimpse into the mind of someone working in the field, and the support to craft their own scripts and learn the tricks of the trade.

The dance program get the kids moving in a high-energy workshop surrounding the culture, history, and breakneck moves of salsa and hip-hop, under the guidance of young professionals who have made names for themselves in Buffalo’s small yet burgeoning dance scene, including local b-boy leader Shane Fry from Verve Studios.

The visual arts program was crafted by Chris Fritton of the WNY Book Arts Collaborative, who has brought the very unique art of papermaking, bookmaking, and printmaking to the students. Bringing new art concepts, materials and the insight of developing the WNY Book Arts Center, students will look at common materials in a new light and also benefit from guidance on the business of becoming an artist.


With this fall being the first incarnation of heARTS – a program which was funded by the Buffalo Public Schools Foundation – and three more course scheduled for the Spring, here’s hoping that many more will follow. In a school system with as many woes as Buffalo’s, it’s certainly a bright spot to see a spotlight on creativity and the arts, facilitated by the very people who are making art happen throughout our community.

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