In a growing area like this one, it’s pretty typical for performers to volunteer their services. They’re motivated by ambition and joy, not by profit. And when it comes to student actors, parents often must pay registration or other fees before their kids can appear in plays staged by local performing-arts programs.
At least a couple of Clark County’s nonprofit performing arts institutions have flipped that script by providing scholarships for young artists so they can further their education.
To power $500 scholarships for arts students as young as fifth grade, nonprofit organization Enspire Arts will host a gala benefit concert Saturday at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver. Admission is free, but Enspire Arts will gratefully accept donations.
Both professional and student performers will take the stage. Those talents include jazz pianist Clay Giberson of Portland (who grew up in rural Woodland, “both in the fields and at the piano,” according to his website); Latin jazz singer Jessie Marquez of Eugene, Ore.; baritone singer Zachary Lenox of Beaverton, Ore.; and members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Sarah Lightfoot launched Enspire in 2017. Last fall, it handed out its fifth round of annual scholarships. Enspire grants three $500 scholarships a year to support education in a chosen field of artistic study (music, visual arts, dance, drama, literature). Private instruction, workshops and summer study all qualify, with scholarship money paid directly to the instructor.
A condition of the scholarship is that recipients also serve as arts ambassadors by sharing their passion in some positive, meaningful and family-friendly way with the community. Recent examples of community projects undertaken by Enspire Arts Ambassadors include performances and presentations at schools and senior centers and after-school peer instruction or workshops in dance and music, Lightfoot said.
“These young people are doing amazing work in our community,” Lightfoot said.
Current students in fifth through 11th grade may apply. The next Art Ambassador Scholarship application cycle opens March 31, and the deadline is April 30, after which there’s an interview. Decisions are made by the Enspire board of directors based on artistic merit only.
Enspire also hosts after-school classes for kids, training sessions for teachers and the occasional community-arts evening for adults.
‘Murder’ for scholarships
A similar strategy is at work at Riverside Performing Arts and its ancillary nonprofit, Northwest Performing Arts Academy. While Riverside is getting ready to stage a comic play-within-a-play whodunit called “The Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery,” Northwest Performing Arts Academy has been raising funds to supply the 14 young actors in the cast $1,000 in scholarship money each.
Those thespians are all ages 11 through 17, according to Scott Craig, co-founder of both organizations.
“All cast members will receive funds that are 100 percent for their continuing performing-arts education,” Craig said.
Riverside launched in 2017 and Northwest Performing Arts Academy in 2020, Craig said.
“With arts programs being cut left and right in our public schools,” he said, “we created an organization that offers arts education to families who otherwise were unable to afford an experience in the performing arts.”
In the 2021-’22 school year, Craig said, NWPAA raised and distributed $14,000 in scholarship money for qualified low-income students to cover tuition and fees at Riverside. In the 2022-’23 school year that number nearly doubled to $27,000.
“Funds were raised by private donations, fundraising and ticket sales,” he said.
But the sister organizations wanted to go beyond raising scholarships only for Riverside students, Craig said. Like the Enspire scholarship money, scholarship dollars raised in conjunction with “Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery” can be used for future education of just about any kind.
“We held an open audition in September,” Craig said. “The cast was chosen based on their skill and experience, but they will all receive the same financial award. These funds can be used for college, trade school or classes anywhere. We are working with each family to determine how the funds will be distributed.”
Craig said he intends “Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery” to be the first of many productions in which the cast will either receive scholarship dollars or get paid for their work.
Compensating youth for their work encourages them to take it seriously, Craig said.
“We want to give these kids a professional experience as well as money for further education,” he said. “This is a chance for kids to earn their own money, for their own continued education, by doing something they love.”