Member Spotlight: Priscilla Hopkins-Smith
Priscilla Hopkins-Smith is the Programs and Communications manager for Arts Ed NJ (previously the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership), the unifying organization and central resource for arts education information, policy, and advocacy in New Jersey. Hopkins-Smith is also the Director of the NJ Governor’s Awards in Arts Education, which is the highest honor that can be received in arts education in New Jersey. With over 15 years of experience in nonprofit communications and administration, Hopkins-Smith’s expertise lies in social media, events, outreach, and community engagement. As programs and communications manager, she works to propel arts education initiatives forward through the #ArtsEdNow campaign, strategic plans, programming, and collaboration.
What are some of the programs Arts Ed NJ offers?
Arts Ed NJ offers the following programs: The Center for Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning, cementing its national leadership on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) with the completion of the NJ SEL/Arts Education Standards Framework in partnership with SEL4NJ; Professional Learning, which provides training and resources to assist districts with effective implementation of the NJ learning standards and developing a professional learning series to help embed SEL into the arts curriculum; and the NJ Governor’s Awards in Arts Education Program, which involved virtually hosting the 2021 NJ Governor's Awards for Arts Education—the only state level awards program of its kind in the nation honoring the artistic talents of students. There’s also the Arts Ed Taskforce and the convening of the September Ready Taskforce (Health and Education Professionals) and releasing the September Ready 2020 Fall Guidance for Arts Education; the Jersey State Solo and Ensemble Festival program; and Arts Ed Now.
How did you transition to virtual community building opportunities and programs during the pandemic?
Our offices have always been remote, so it was truly only a question of when. When does everything become virtual? Much of 2020 was a waiting game of when do we flip the switch and utilize these tools. We are also the state-wide voice for arts education, and we provide guidance to the field, so it was only natural to be one of the first organizations to provide lists of virtual resources for the field. When we went into lockdown, we made a pivot before much of the rest of the world. We started planning and hosting live streamed and pre-recorded content. We shifted our budget to hire videographers and we worked with our intern on cultivating her video and technology skills. We set the stage, so to speak, on what can and should be done. We hosted a red-carpet countdown long before TV networks did. We are very proud of our transition to holding space and creating community virtually over the past two years. We have learned a lot and will bring aspects of that work with us into the future.
You oversaw producing Arts Ed NJ’s short documentary feature, “Beyond the Boundaries: Arts Education Through a Pandemic,” which spotlights student artwork and performance, plus interviews with arts educators about how students adapted and pushed through the challenges of COVID-19. What was the process for creating that film?
Over the first months of the pandemic, we collected hundreds of pieces of artwork and virtual performances that were so powerful and innovative. The creativity and passion shared with us was simply overwhelming. This story needed to be told. We were consistently working with our partners to produce never-done-before virtual events, celebrations, and conferences. We realized that this was the ultimate advocacy moment. There was no better time to share the need for arts education and the power of creativity. The next step was to find the voices, provide the space, and see what grows. We identified an amazing videographer, Christopher King, of Endless Echo. Then we approached various arts educators in different disciplines. We sent out a call to the field for artwork and performances. The story unfolded on its own; we were just the vehicle for delivery of the message.
At the end of the film, text appears on screen reading, “Our post pandemic future will be imagined through arts education.” How do you see arts education changing?
I see arts education as evolving and integrating in our K-12 schools. As many students and educators return to school and to their classrooms at long last, this feature celebrates and commemorates their achievement against the odds. As one educator states, “What the pandemic taught the students more than anything is that they are the driving force. They are the medium. They are everything.” We are seeing an emphasis on student-centered learning, social-emotional learning, and use of technology to remove barriers. Arts education is the vehicle for this type of embedded instruction, and it only amplifies the other core subjects. Our students need to heal, create, and connect and arts education is necessary to the solution.
Americans for the Arts Membership
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