Dominic Vennemann, 16, first heard about the Governor’s School for the Arts, or GSA, from friends at his dance studio in Kenton County, Ky.
“I asked my mom what [GSA] was, and she explained it to me,” Vennemann said. “Then we started researching more into that, and I said, ‘Oh, can I try out?’”
Venneman, a hip hop dancer, felt he needed to try some additional dance forms to boost his chances of getting into the tuition-free arts program, which runs each summer at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He added ballet and modern dance classes to his schedule, and got accepted into the 2022 GSA dance program.
“And it’s a fun experience to, like, constantly be learning something new and building on my skills and just trying new things,” he said of his time in Lexington. He can’t wait to go back home and ask his mom if he can take more classes at his dance studio.
Venneman and his fellow GSA attendees finish up their final projects and shows Saturday.
This year, with support from a $2,850,000 Kentucky Department of Education grant, twice as many kids got to attend GSA, a public-private partnership between Kentucky Performing Arts, the state and private stakeholders.
More than 500 students from across the commonwealth spent weeks immersed in one of several art forms: from visual arts to dance, vocal music, musical theater, drama, creative writing, instrumental music, film and photography, and architecture and design. GSA officials believe the summer intensive is about much more than simply refining young artists’ skills.
A career in the arts can take different forms
“I think vocal music has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and I think it’s easier to see a career pathway as a result of GSA,” 17-year-old Dawson Gorby, of Leitchfield, said.
Gorby said the teachers and activities during the program have helped him see just how many options there are.
“We talk about different pathways to be a teacher or a college professor… You can be a conductor, a vocalist in a choir or someone who sings in an opera… There’s also music therapy,” he said. “I could really go on and on. There’s a lot of things people don’t think about per se.”
Executive director Nick Covault, who is a 2002 GSA vocal music alum, said the program is designed to both help them see the many ways they can pursue an artistic career and how being an artist can help them in other endeavors.
“Whether they know it now or not, they might have other passions that lead them into other careers,” he said. “That’s part of exactly what we’re doing here as well, is empowering them to understand that the skills that they have as artists aren’t just helpful on a stage or on the wall of the gallery. But in other industries as well.”
He listed things like nimbleness, innovation, communication skills.
“We need artists in [other] industries,” Covault said, adding that communities also need citizens who can “help ensure that the arts are valued in our society.”
For the sake of joy and community
Sixteen-year-old Kennedy White said participating in the visual arts program this summer at GSA “has been the highlight of my social life.”
“It’s been really nice getting to talk with people, other creatives. That helps me reignite my passion for art,” said White, who calls Rineyville in Hardin County home.
White said she was encouraged by a teacher, who once attended GSA, to apply for the program.
“Being around so many artistic people, it’s allowed me to make friends really, really quickly,” she continued. “It’s really easy to get to know people and find common interests and hang out and just get to know people on a different level.”
Prior to coming to Lexington, White said she wasn’t sure art was a viable career path, but the program has given her hope about what a creative future can look like.
“I’m not really sure exactly what I want to do with my life right now. But I’d hope to pursue something at least a little bit in the arts so I can keep creating.”
Covault said they try to help students see that not having all of the answers at this point in their lives is OK.
“So much of the work that we do is about the creative process, is about experiencing each day together as a community, and so much of that is about things like joy, or about fun,” he said.
“We really try to emphasize and also live our lives during this program in a way that focuses on just the magic that can happen when artists get together.”
As for the doubled class size this summer, Covault said they’re already exploring ways to keep it going.
“None of us want to be at the end of this funding cycle, at the end of 2024, and say, ‘Well, I guess let’s just go back to half the capacity again,’” he said. “So we definitely have plans to undergo a fundraising campaign to be able to sustain this… for years to come.”
Editor’s note: Stephanie Wolf participated in a panel discussion during the 2022 Governor’s School for the Arts program.