By Nick Covault
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) is a unique treasure. Very few states offer a program that convenes young artists for college-level instruction and community building with peers who share their passion for creativity. In fact, GSA is arguably the only program of its kind in the country that is offered tuition-free to Kentucky students. Alumni of the program receive access to lifelong mentorships, a supportive alumni network, and college scholarships that break down barriers to higher education.
Without a doubt, GSA exists in an intricate ecosystem of arts education that is interconnected with systemic challenges, such as income disparity, institutionalized racism, varying degrees of investment in education and marginalization of communities, both urban and rural. We may not have all the answers, but we are committed to using our resources to be a part of the solution.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the immensity of these layered and nuanced issues. Amidst the complexity of this challenge, we believe in going to the places where our future students live, to meet with their advocates — parents, educators, counselors, community members — and learn how we can collaborate on resourcing young people who represent the future of connection, innovation and equity in our society.
This is why the GSA team travels throughout our beautiful state. We have attended a high school play at Perry County Central High School; chatted with students and parents on the floor of a dance studio in Glasgow; and sat down for a meal with leaders of the local arts council in Estill County. We stopped at Breathitt County High School to see if the guidance counselor had a few spare minutes and took a quick tour of the Merle Travis Music Center in Muhlenberg County, where we learned more about the region’s legacy of thumb-picking guitar.
Last fall, we spoke with more than 1,000 people — either in person or virtually — about the application process. This is why 147 GSA alumni volunteered to be recruiters in their hometowns across 47 Kentucky counties in 2019. Relationships and partnerships take time to build, but through this investment, we can embrace our interdependence and work together toward a better future. GSA’s efforts are far from comprehensive, and our opportunities to grow are numerous.
Our funding capacity limits our tuition-free experience to 256 students, a robust number in many ways, but also a shortfall in our ability to fully deliver to young Kentuckians, as we turn away an average of 37% of qualified applicants due to capacity restraints. We carefully navigate adjudicating our applicants in context, eschewing the comfort of “exact science” and embracing the courage to navigate gray area under the guidance of values. We seek to understand the hearts of our students; passion for and potential in the arts are often more important qualifications than technical skill.
We agree there is more work to do, and we can do that work together, Kentucky. Let us address the various factors that contributed to 38% of our 2019 applicant pool coming from Fayette and Jefferson counties. Let us have conversations with our elected officials, decision makers, and each other about how we can ensure that students have access to arts training years before they even consider applying to a program like GSA.
We welcome your feedback and invite you to join the discussion about how Kentucky can best resource our young artists by filling out a survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/GSACommunityConvo.
Nick Covault is the director for the Governor’s School for the Arts.