The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has decided to shut down its Community School of the Arts, a year-round, 33-year-old institution bringing high-level instruction to students of all ages in the visual and performing arts, Kindermusik and Chinese language instruction.
Leslie J. Mangiamele, school director for 18 years and an adjunct professor of visual art in UALR's art department, said the program will end Aug. 15, after its Summer Arts Camp and Summer String Camp end.
"The problem is the bottom line," Mangiamele said. "The dean could not see a way around not cutting our salaries." She said the school has been under threat of closure for several years, but survived an attempt to close it two years ago because of support support.
Deborah Baldwin, dean of UALR's college of arts, humanities and social sciences, said yesterday she considers the closing of the school as temporary. She said the university will study a consultant's report made in March on how to make the program self-sufficient and present a proposal to the provost in July 2013.
About 1,000 children and adults are enrolled in the program, which has seen growth over the years. Tuition pays for faculty (81 percent), operating costs (8 percent) and reimburses UALR for facilities' use (11 percent). It does not pay the salaries for the director and her assistant. Baldwin said the school "has regularly been $75,000 to $85,000 in the red" — by which she means the university is paying the salaries — and UALR would like the program to be entirely self-supporting. Baldwin said she did not know how many university community schools are self-supporting. Mangiamele said that deficit budgets for the schools "are sort of the nature community schools."
The school was opened in 1979, Mangiamele said, "to make these wonderful professors [at UALR] in the arts accessible to people in the community." The faculty includes arts professionals and those with advanced degrees as well as UALR instructors teaching the once-a-week classes.
“I feel terrible about the students we have been nurturing from age 5 to their teen-age years” to become arts professionals, Mangiamele said.
Mangiamele is one of four visual art instructors. There are also 12 music instructors, a dance instructor and a language instructor. A string instructor, the language instructor, an art instructor and three piano teachers will lose their only employment, Mangiamele said.
"I'm sorry we're in this position," Dean Baldwin said. "We would love to be able to continue ... we just have to figure out how to make this work."
Ironically, the school was created because of cutbacks in the arts in the public schools. The Community School's website includes this statement:
"When considering the education of the children in our community, we discover that for a variety of reasons our schools have been unable to provide consistent and varied arts instruction. Sadly, music and visual art classes are the first to be cut when money is short. To address this, the UALR Community School of the Arts, initiated in 1979, was created."
The school will continue after a fashion, Mangiamele said, thanks to an offer of studio space by Rhythm 88 on Bowman Road. She'd like to see the program get its own space. "We could use a house, a building ... empty strip malls. ... Give us a space and we will continue to do high quality stuff."
UALR ended its planetarium and Urban Design programs in the past few years; neither was resurrected.