There are many reasons to make arts engagement opportunities more accessible in rural communities. Evidence gained from scientific research conducted throughout the past two decades indicates the important effect that music and the arts have on human growth and development, and how they improve individual skills. This is true for people of all ages and backgrounds. For example, when children and youth participate in the performing arts, they show gains in academic achievement, critical thinking, and social and emotional skills. Engaging with the visual arts, whether by viewing or creating it, has been shown to lower stress and improve memory and empathy. Participating in the arts also fosters community, as diverse participants share and experience them together.
Anyone can participate in the arts if the opportunities are readily available. One of the challenges rural communities and schools face is limited resources that result in the need to prioritize expenditures. Support for the arts in public schools and community programs has been a lower priority over the last several years. Remote geography and lack of transportation also negatively affect access. Widespread lack of awareness of the many benefits of the arts also limits participation. In more urban areas, the arts are generally on full display and easily accessible. That is not the case in rural regions, and the arts are not front of mind.
Snow Pond is rapidly expanding community programming in music, the arts and in after school programs by building partnerships with schools and community organizations. These programs (offered at little or no cost) fill a major gap in exposure to the arts. There are limited after-school programs that incorporate arts education in this region. Also, Snow Pond continues to support the Maine Arts Academy public high school by providing food service, sharing facilities and staff, and encouraging student engagement in campus and community activities and programs that further increase access to meaningful learning opportunities.
Distance learning technology helps address the challenges of cost, specialized resources, and geography. Through the latest hardware and web-based software solutions, individuals and institutions can access lessons, engage in individual or group performances and classes, and learn from a global pool of talented artists and musicians, regardless of where the students or instructors are located. Snow Pond is equipped with strong broadband service and state-of-the-art technology, including cameras, microphones, and projectors, that enhance learning experiences by making it possible to watch a large screen and enjoy high-quality sound. This distance learning technology facilitates connection of onsite performances, lessons, and classes and remote talent to rural students and communities.
Access to technology and facilities means each community no longer has to create music, art, and cultural opportunities independently, thus making the arts readily available and far more specialized in our region. Snow Pond will continue to expand the outreach programs, infrastructure, and the “hub” of artistic faculty to promote and support widespread access to the arts so that every community in the region can share resources while ensuring broader individual access to a variety of specialized learning opportunities for all age groups.