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Home » Arts Education Amidst a Pandemic
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Arts Education Amidst a Pandemic


Published in the issue.

Student Ensemble

Youth programs across the diocese have faced unprecedented challenges over the last 18 months. This is especially true of Nesin Cultural Arts (NCA), which provides music and arts education for young people in Monticello and surrounding rural Sullivan County communities. Through creativity, re-envisioning, determination, and additional financial support, NCA has created new ways for youth to engage with the arts. They have successfully maintained all programming by shifting to virtual and hybrid models and have piloted some exciting expansions of their offerings to meet the needs of the community.

NCA’s mission is to enhance the cultural fabric of the community by providing comprehensive lifelong learning opportunities through integrated arts-based partnerships and programming. Their goal is to improve the community’s quality of life by making the arts a prevalent, accessible, and visible part of it, while fostering awareness and understanding of world cultures. The organization was founded in 2011 by Sullivan County educators who recognized the need to bring arts education programs to their diverse, geographically isolated, and underserved community.

Serving over 175 students, NCA provides education in music (choral, instrumental, vocal, small and large ensembles, and composition), dance, visual arts, and theatre. In addition to their expansive youth arts programs, NCA supports the professional Sullivan County Chamber Orchestra (SCCO), which offers orchestral and chamber music concerts throughout the county as well as education and mentoring opportunities for NCA students through the Aspiring Young Musicians Program (AYM). AYM offers lessons, chamber music coaching, and side-by-side performance opportunities. NCA has been a recipient of Youth Opportunity Grants from Episcopal Charities of the Diocese of New York through St. John’s Church of Monticello since 2017.

When the pandemic shutdown struck in March 2020, NCA made a quick and seamless transition to accessible online platforms. The hope was to maintain a sense of routine for the youth and to keep an open line of communication with students and families. As the spring and summer continued, NCA moved to more efficient platforms as they learned to cope with the limitations of internet service in the area. Through their experimentation and research, NCA was an invaluable resource to other youth programs funded by Episcopal Charities, including the Washington Heights Choir School (Holyrood/Santa Cruz, Manhattan) and Young at Arts (Christ Church, Bronxville), generously sharing these resources and successes with other program leaders.

In May of 2020, NCA received a grant from Episcopal Charities’ COVID-19 Emergency Fund to purchase supplies for their virtual summer camp. These funds helped to purchase technology and software as well as handheld instruments like ukuleles and handbells. Episcopal Charities granted a second request for COVID-19 Emergency Fund support for their expansion to in-person homework help for youth with unreliable internet access. Re-envisioning the use of its Suzanne Stanway Arts Haven, NCA expanded their operational hours, purchased additional PPE, and made necessary changes to the Arts Haven to meet safety protocols. The Arts Haven continues to offer a drop-in program for students while facing the ongoing challenges brought about by the pandemic.

NCA wrapped up 2020 with some impressive performances. In November, they collaborated with the Washington Heights Choir School (another EC-NY grantee) on a virtual children’s choir performance for Episcopal Charities Virtual Tribute Dinner. In December, all NCA’s programs collaborated on an Integrated Arts Project called “Holiday Traditions around the World.” Each program, including the professional Sullivan County Chamber Orchestra (SCCO), studied the holiday traditions of five cultures around the world. The result was a virtual presentation with an added at-home culinary series where students created a dessert from each of the represented cultures. SCCO recorded a Holiday Pops Concert on-site which was shared with the community on YouTube.

In 2021, NCA has continued to offer Arts Haven Day Programs, Aspiring Young Musicians, and Fine Arts Classes, with some in-person offerings. Nesin Cultural Arts has shown incredible resilience, tenacity, and flexibility in the face of such a challenging year. The innovative developments will be a permanent fixture in the organization as they continue to realize their mission in new and critical ways.

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Episcopal Charities funds over 100 programs, including Nesin Cultural Arts. You can learn more at www.ec-ny.org, Facebook at @episcopalcharitiesnewyork, and Instagram at @episcopalcharities.

For more information about Nesin Cultural Arts, please visit: www.nesinculturalarts.org or call 845-798-9006 or follow on social media: Facebook and Instagram @NesinCulturalArts; Twitter @NCAMonticello.