Above: a still from Haja the Bird: A Musical Family Adventure

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, some of Millersville University’s own began a new online program designed to bring art into the homes of youngsters across Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This program, called Art to Heart, did more than just teach children about the arts: it also helped to support local artistduring uncertain times in the industry. Thprogramming is available in 2021 for all children and includes topics to engage those who are underserved and underrepresented by the arts.  

“We developed Art to Heart out of a moment of turmoil and crisis, and looked to models like the Works Progress Administration,” said Marci Nelligan, grantfunded program manager of South Central PaArtners at MU. “In doing so, asking ourselves how we, in our small way, might find paid work for our artists at a time when they so desperately needed it. 

The series, which is available to watch for free on YouTube and features an array of local artists, covering topics from music and movement to creating works of art out of found materials – or even food.  

Barry Kornhauser, assistant director of campus and community engagement for the arts at Millersville, has been central to the program’s continuation over the past year. This initiative, in collaboration with South Central PaARTners, the regional arts-in-education branch of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, has brought local artists together to create unique, online content to give kids at home access to arts. “Young people today are placing value on a more immersive experience than is possible through mere observation,” says Kornhauser. “So in every facet of our programming, they are not passive spectators, but actively engaged participants. 

The team took special care to curate diverse content for all kinds of kids that could be watching online. “We envision totally unique arts experiences – diverse in form and content,” says Kornhauser. “This programming is intended for all children in Lancaster County, but special efforts are being made to engage those who are underserved and underrepresented by the arts.” Many of the videos that local artists contributed focused on programming for just those audiences: for example, there’s Spanish-language content, and even a lesson iESL made specifically for those with hearing impairments. 

Cristina Virmani, a 2017 graduate of Millersville University who holds a degree in art education and a second in fine arts is currently serving as the 8th grade art teacher in the Conestoga Valley School District and is one of the featured artists in the Art to Heart lineup. On top of her teaching role, she also creates and sells her artwork online“I work mostly on portraits but recently I have been painting on different surfaces such as wood, tote bags and shoes,” she says.  

Above: Cristina Virmani poses for a photo.

She first became involved with Art to Heart through her work with a program called Arts Smarts through the Ware Center. “I worked with Arts Smarts to bring art to all children even in the summer,” she explains. “Because last summer was so different from our typical summers, I was able to create video art content for children at home. Being able to still reach children and help inspire them to make art from home personally helped me stay connected through a challenging summer.”  

Virmani, like Kornhauser, also believes in the value and importance of exposing children to the arts – especially now. “This year has pushed me to adapt my teaching to an online platform in so many ways,” she says. “From making art demonstration videos to instructing through Zoom, I have been able to push my idea of how art is taught.” Participating in Art to Heart was an extension of this. “Art is so important to young minds because it gives them the opportunity to share their voice and stories visually,” explains Virmani. “Knowing there are other people who have the same stories to share and learning about how artists have used their voice to impact change help children understand the world around them. 

To date, the program has raised $8,110 from individual donors which has helped to fund the creation of 20 videosThose interested in donating can visit Millersville’s website by clicking here and more videos are being planned. 

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