Extraordinary artistic talent is not limited by zip code or income level, but the opportunity to develop that talent can be. That was the impetus behind the Arts and Education Council’s (A&E) Art Education Fund, underwritten by a generous grant from Wells Fargo Advisors. The program removes financial barriers that may prevent exceptionally talented students who reside in underserved or low-income areas from expanding their creative training outside the traditional classroom setting.

Each of the four students featured here is an inspiring example of the ripple effect you help create with a gift to A&E.

Royce Martin

Royce Martin, 18, started playing the piano just four years ago by tinkering around on his sister’s toy keyboard and watching YouTube videos. Then his teacher at the Grand Center Arts Academy, a past A&E grantee, introduced him to Pianos for People, where he started taking lessons. They also helped his family get a full-sized piano in their home.

By April 2016, it was clear that Martin was nothing short of a piano prodigy. He won the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition for his original composition and in January 2017 received a standing ovation at the St. Louis Arts Awards for his performance in recognition of Arts Innovator of the Year honoree, Pianos for People.

When GRAMMY award-winning pianist Peter Martin’s Open Studio Network (OSN) moved into A&E’s arts incubator, the Centene Center for the Arts, the following March, it was only natural to introduce them. He is learning music transcription and piano instruction with the team, an opportunity made possible by A&E’s Art Education Fund.

“The best thing about working with Open Studio Network is being so close with Peter and Adam and learning how the business side of music works. A lot of people don’t really get opportunities like this,” Martin said.

OSN also recorded Martin’s conservatory audition videos and mentored him in the college selection process.

Now, Martin is headed to one of the country’s top music conservatories, with his sights set on a career in music and composition.

SenSa Maasera

SenSa Maasera, 15, was first introduced to COCA (an A&E grantee) four years ago when her older sister took classes there. Maasera soon signed up for dance classes at COCA. New to the arts, she felt like dance could be her way to express herself and showcase her talent to friends and family.

“I’m not really artistic in any other way, so dance is really fun for me because I can show people what I can do,” Maasera explained.

Given her impressive talent and love for dance, COCA applied to A&E’s Art Education Fund so Maasera could continue her training. That support now covers the cost of year-round tuition, pointe shoes and transportation for evening rehearsals and classes.

What started simply as a mode for self-expression is becoming something more. Now, Maasera dreams of joining a dance company after high school.

Nicholas Murphy

Nicholas Murphy, 17, is a young man with big plans. Since he was a small child, he has dreamt of studying physics at Princeton University. So when a teacher recommended he take up music as a way to enhance his already impressive academic skills, Murphy turned to the piano.

At first, he was just teaching himself on a keyboard at the St. Louis Public Library, but in March 2017 he played at a piano slam at Pianos for People, where it was quickly apparent that he had a talent worth cultivating. Pianos for People applied on Murphy’s behalf to A&E’s Art Education Fund, which covers the cost of lessons and Murphy’s rideshare to lessons.

After just six months of private lessons, Murphy’s talent had become more refined as he studied technique, sight reading, composition, ear development and notation.

His lessons are connecting back to those academic interests, too.

“When I play the piano, I think about the sound waves formed by the hammers hitting the strings,” said Murphy. “It reinforces what I’m learning at school about physics theories like consonance and dissonance.”

Murphy performed at Pianos for People’s An Evening of 100 Fingers in October, moving the audience to tears of joy. His next performance will be at the organization’s Music Festival this April.

Murphy’s recent introduction to piano performance and composition through the Art Education Fund has done more than unlock a tremendous talent. It has also connected him with people who can make that college dream a reality. James Butler, a Pianos for People board member and Princeton alumnus, is mentoring Murphy through the college application process — the next step in his ripple effect story.

Kameryn Davis

Kameryn Davis, 16, was first introduced to dance at age three when a family friend encouraged her to sign up for classes. She immediately fell in love and has been dancing ever since, often using dance as an escape.

“Dance challenges me to step outside of myself,” Davis explained. “I’m an introvert, so dance is an outlet for anything that’s bothering me.”

Now, she trains with professional dancers, including Antonio Douthit-Boyd, formerly of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, at COCA (an A&E grantee).

Year-round classes and productions are expensive, though, so support from A&E’s Art Education Fund provides Davis access to additional training such as summer dance programs that will further her growth as a dancer.

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