Although school is out for the summer, a collaborative group is making sure that children have a full schedule of enrichment opportunities to enjoy. The following feature on Happy Hill Arts is shared with permission from the UNC School of the Arts. For more content and photos, click here.  

One by one, about a dozen children file into the multi-purpose room for a dance class at Willows Peake Apartments in the Happy Hill neighborhood. This dance class is part of Happy Hill Arts, a place-based arts initiative aimed at strengthening community pride and cohesion in the historically African American neighborhood adjacent to UNCSA. Collaborators include the Happy Hill Neighborhood Association, the UNCSA School of Dance, the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts and other partners.

DigiStar Photo Group/ Bruce Chapman–04/26/18– during a recent afterschool program session at the Happy Hill community center in Winston-Salem, N. C., Thursday, April 26, 2018. DigiStar Happy Hill Afterschool Program CHA

Artists of color lead a variety of cultural arts activities for Happy Hill youth to enhance their educational opportunities, from dance and drumming to photography and storytelling.

The founders of Happy Hill Arts, Amatullah Saleem and Rebecca Bryant Williams, recently won The Winston-Salem Foundation’s prestigious ECHO Award, which honors people and organizations in the city who are instrumental in building social capital. Both women are artists who helped revive the Happy Hill Neighborhood Association in 2015 and now serve as officers. And both are passionate about breaking down the barriers that have separated the neighborhood from the arts school for decades.

 “It is important that people understand the history of Happy Hill is every bit as important to the history of Winston-Salem as Old Salem is. Your history tells you who you are and what your value is. If you don’t have that foundation, you are not rooted in anything.” Williams says.

 By all accounts, last summer’s program was a success. Williams says that organizers noticed a significant transformation in the behavior of the students: “It was really eye-opening to see how the children changed in just six weeks. They were able to increase their focus, and they got a greater appreciation for the importance of discipline and paying attention.”

Such positive outcomes are supported by research. A 2012 large-scale, longitudinal study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that children who are exposed to intensive arts experiences not only perform better academically than their peers who are not, they also become more socially active citizens.

All of the partners in Happy Hill Arts supported adding an after-school component to the program this year, which has expanded the neighborhood’s ability to interact with the UNCSA community when school is in session and the campus is alive with programming opportunities.

Exposing children to the arts, Williams says, is an effective way to tap into their potential. “For African American children in particular, it is important to be able to see people who are successful and who have the same color skin as yours, to realize that that is not a barrier, it is actually an asset.”

The summer program culminated with a well-received performance for families, neighbors and friends during which the children’s work was showcased and celebrated.