Traditional Arts Programs for Students: An After-School Model

AFS Folklore and Education Section Newsletter

By Zoe van Buren, Folklife Specialist, North Carolina Arts Council –

At the North Carolina Arts Council, the Folklife Program is in its 13th year administering the Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS) program, which has had incredible success across the state supporting after-school instruction in traditional arts that are practiced and valued by local communities.

TAPS was administered through Arts in Education for several years before moving under Folklife. The NC Arts Council currently funds 22 TAPS programs, which are hosted by arts councils, schools, and arts partners based in 21 counties across the state, with all but one based in small towns and rural communities. TAPS programs are teaching old-time and bluegrass music, tribal arts of the Haliwa-Saponi, the jazz, R&B, and funk heritage of eastern NC, Korean cultural arts, and the 250-year-old pottery tradition of Seagrove. Many TAPS programs in the mountains are also affiliated with the non-profit Junior Appalachian Musicians Inc, which originated at the Sparta School in Alleghany County and is the model upon which TAPS was founded in order to serve all regions and traditions of North Carolina. TAPS has enabled the Folklife Program to make a direct impact on under-resourced regions of the state, create career opportunities for working artists, and “replant the forest” of those who appreciate, practice, and nurture their local cultures.

TAPS provides students with important bonding experiences within their own community, giving them a cultural and artistic identity that increases their sense of belonging. Parents report that their children often gain new confidence, better school performance, and stronger social connections, while some TAPS students have gone on to careers as musicians and art educators, and even returned to TAPS as instructors. Each annual $8,000 TAPS grant has an outsize-impact, acting as a large-scale folklife apprenticeship program and serving artists and youths not otherwise reached by fellowships, heritage awards, or one-on-one mentorships.

Perhaps the greatest factor in TAPS’ success is the high level of autonomy of each program. With only a few guidelines dictated by the NC Arts Council regarding class size, total hours of instruction, and commitment to traditionally appropriate teaching methods (old-time music, for example, must be taught by ear and tabs and not by sheet music), each program becomes deeply embedded within, and beloved by, its local community. TAPS grants are not time limited, allowing host organizations to apply year after year. Continued support keeps the programs free or highly affordable and allows them to plan ahead, coordinate with schools, and grow community investment over the long-term. The program’s impact and ease of administration has made it a gradually expanding budgetary priority and allowed it to grow from a small group of four programs in the mountains to a statewide presence.

Beginning small, the model is easily adaptable. It translates well across region and culture, taking an old and well-supported concept and building it into a core program. As the NC Arts Council works to grow TAPS within its own state, it recommends the model to all granting organizations interested in establishing ongoing programs for traditional arts learning in school-aged populations.

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