Tell us about yourself.
My name is Jennifer Maddux and I am the Director of Education at Richmond Performing Arts Alliance. I received my undergraduate degree in Music Education/Voice at Shenandoah Conservatory and my masters degree in Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University. I spent the majority of my career serving in Henrico County Public Schools getting my start as a chorus teacher at Byrd Middle School (now Quioccasin Middle School) and then transitioning into Instructional Technology at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Most recently, I served in school leadership as an Associate Principal at both Short Pump Middle School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School. I also have a passion for music theatre. In 2003, I took part in CAP21- a six-week intensive music theater program through New York University. Through the years, I’ve gotten the opportunity to perform with various local theater companies and directed at both public and private middle schools.
Richmond Performing Arts Alliance (RPAA) is a 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is to provide diverse local and world-class performing arts, transformative arts education experiences for students of all ages and inspirational venues—all to strengthen the cultural and economic vitality of the Greater Richmond region. Our venues serve as home to nearly a dozen resident companies, including Richmond Symphony, Richmond Ballet, Virginia Opera, Latin Ballet of Virginia, Quill Theatre and more. Each year our BrightLights Education Initiatives reach over 3,000 through programming in the schools and in our venues. Our venues include Altria Theater (located at Monroe Park, at the edge of the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University) and Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts, the latter which house the historic 1800-seat Carpenter Theatre, Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse (200 seats) and Rhythm Hall (135-200 seats). The Dominion Energy Center also houses the Genworth BrightLights Education Center (which includes an innovative Digital Arts Lab), and the administrative offices for RPAA, Richmond Symphony and Virginia Opera.
ABOVE: RPAA just announced the expansion of their flgship program, now called “Greater Richmond Wolf Trap”
What is the focus of your work?
Providing transformative arts education for students of all ages is at the heart of the mission of Richmond Performing Arts Alliance. Since 2009, the BrightLights Education Initiatives have aimed to serve educators, students and families from across the Richmond region, working to increase equity in access to the arts and arts in education. Our programs take place in schools, community settings and in the venues of RPAA. We believe in the power of the arts to enrich, enliven and educate children and adults in transformative ways that lead to new understandings in learning and life, which inevitably improves the quality of living across our region.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Throughout my career as an educator, it has been my passion to find opportunities for children to engage with music, theater, and dance. I love seeing the spark in a student’s eye when they experience pure joy through the arts. During a time where these vital programs are disappearing in schools across the nation, I am proud to be working for a non-profit that is helping to make arts-integration a vital component of the preschool curriculum. The arts shaped my childhood and directly impacted the way I learned and- ultimately- the choices I made in my career and life. I hope that we are doing the same for the children we interact with daily.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
One of the greatest challenges that we find in our work with preschool students is trying to connect with the families of the students in the schools where we have residencies. Because we are an outside ‘provider,’ we don’t have the same direct connections with the parents and community members as the school has developed. We have tried to host family nights for the preschool classes that we support, but typically have minimal attendance because of other commitments that parents have in the evening. One way we are working to overcome this hurdle is by coordinating our family events with school events so that we can catch families while they are already attending a school function. By showing parents the work we do with their children, we are increasing our impact and- quite often- introducing the parents to a new way to bond with their child.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
RPAA works intentionally to support today’s artists by cultivating diverse arts experiences, to nurture tomorrow’s artists through programming and experiences that deepen their connection to the arts, and to provide spaces for the arts to thrive by supporting Richmond’s premier historical venues. Most of the Richmond community know about the venues that we work with (Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts and Altria Theater), but many are surprised to hear that we have robust educational programming. We provide arts-integration residencies for preschool teachers in local schools, theater classes for NextUp (an after school enrichment program in Richmond Public Schools), and operate a Digital Arts Lab where we offer courses in Video Production for high school students in the Greater Richmond area.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
Through the years, our ‘flagship’ educational program has been ELLA (Early Literacy Learning through the Arts). We recently announced that this program will be expanding through a new partnership with Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and will now operate as Greater Richmond Wolf Trap. Using Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts’ proven model, we will pair active learning experiences for children with powerful, effective professional development for early childhood educators. Educators will receive hands-on, customized coaching, working side by side with RPAA’s professional teaching artists to develop arts-based skills and discover how to actively engage preschool students in core subjects through singing, dancing, role-playing, and storytelling. We will be taking these residencies to schools and preschool centers in Richmond Public Schools and Henrico County Public Schools.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
The arts-integration residencies above are a part of a new partnership with Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. We recently had leadership from Wolf Trap’s national office as well as two master teaching artists spend a week with us training RPAA’s local teaching artists. Through this week-long professional development, our teaching artists learned how to connect their art form with literacy curriculum in the preschool classroom and developed their skills in arts integration.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA and the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
We are very fortunate to have the Community Foundation support of Greater Richmond Wolf Trap through grant funds. In addition to supporting our Pre-K programs financially, they also recently provided us with a capacity building grant to help develop our new three-year strategic plan that will guide our work. Additionally, we have enjoyed our continued partnership with NextUp, over the years providing middle school students with instruction in subjects like theater, piano, and video production. Finally, we are always looking at ConnectVA for enrichment classes for our staff and interesting articles related to our work.
Anything else you would like to share?
If anyone is interested in learning more about our BrightLights Education Initiatives, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also read about them on our website: http://rpaalliance.com/education