While many people pass through the city of Des Moines via Interstates 235 and 80 daily, few realize the hidden gem of an arts community the city contains. Of course, the Des Moines Arts Center and Pappajohn Sculpture Park are wonderful assets to the community, but another lesser known asset to the Des Moines community is a not-for-profit organization called ASAP, the After School Arts Program.
Started in the fall of 2007 as an outreach ministry of St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Des Moines, Michelle Bolton King took over as director in 2009 with the assistance of the board. Together they changed the program to its not-for-profit status, Arts for the City, Inc., to administer ASAP, its flagship program, and driving the program to great new heights. Overall, the program is largely executed by a group of volunteers, consisting of teaching artists, local high school and college students, and local adults. The volunteers offer their services to the program adding a diverse range of backgrounds and skills, all with the goal of offering art classes to students that do not have the necessary resources for an arts education in their school classrooms.
The need for this kind of program in the city of Des Moines is high. Due to lack of funding, many young people in our community are under served by the arts education offered in school and lack the artistic environment needed to develop their own imaginations and exercise self-expression. This past year under the umbrella of a 21st Century Learning Centers Grant and partnered with Des Moines Public Schools, ASAP has expanded to include students from Monroe Elementary, Capitol View Elementary, McKinley Elementary, and Brody Middle School, in addition to King Academy, Moulton Extended Learning Center, and Edmunds Elementary, which were already a part of the program. The students, having shown interest or talent in the arts, are recommended to participate in the program by their individual arts and music teachers.
This past session was my first as a teaching artist. I taught a studio on photography, explaining the basic lessons of the art and producing a final project with a twist in that the kids were asked to tell a story with the photos they learned to take. Throughout the course of the session, I had the privilege of watching each child in my two studios grow and learn something new, asking lots questions in every class and being challenged to think outside the box. During our final class, the kids finished their projects and set up the exhibition. The experience of displaying their work for others to come and see was a first for every child in my studios, and I find no greater personal enjoyment than seeing the pride of each one of my students as they brought their families and friends in to present their unique projects. This enjoyment was found throughout the rest of the volunteers as we all watched the other studios perform the dances, music, and Brazilian martial arts they had learned, while sharing dinner together.
ASAP is such a unique opportunity for these kids to spend a little extra time every week on learning one of the arts, but more than that the program teaches the kids to discover their own creativity and style, be aware of time management, present ideas in front of an audience, and many other important skillsets they will be able to use throughout their lives. The program’s goal of being a diverse community teaching a diverse group of studios each session is accomplished each and every time.
On the horizon for the program is the prospect to partner with the Des Moines Social Club as the club renovates and takes up residency in the old downtown firehouse, furthering the reach and resources of ASAP to expand programming and possibly include more schools in the future. As a supporter of the organization, I am excited to be a part of such a great strength for the city of Des Moines and look ahead to a bright future.
For more information about ASAP or to donate your time, talents, or funds, please see the website. http://www.asap-dsm.org/