Arts-Kids painting a different picture with new executive director
Arts-Kids, the youth development nonprofit that uses art as a tool to teach children life skills, is going through a growth spurt.
Five months ago, the organization — which was founded in 1999 by Pat Drewry Sanger, an advanced practice psychiatric-mental health registered nurse and child/adolescent specialist — roped in Ted “Cowboy Ted” Hallisey as its new executive director. Hallisey, who is known in Utah for his school assemblies that uses positive role models to encourage students to not use tobacco or alcohol, is working to add those aspects to Arts-Kids’ use of the visual arts to build self-confidence as well as to develop problem-solving, communication and decision-making skills.
“We are committed to creating a community that offers children and teens positive adult mentors, a safe and supportive environment and the opportunities to explore the visual arts, dance and music with professional artists,” Hallisey said. “We also want to foster confidence and self-esteem in a non-competitive creative environment.”
Hallisey wants to go beyond reaching 20 kids for eight weeks, reaching every student in any given school at least five times before the end of the school year.
“My ultimate goal is to be in the school for all 40 weeks and have exposure for every single kid,” he said. “And I want to use all art forms, including dance, theatre and rodeo skills.”
Hallisey’s career includes a stint as a radio rodeo specialist for KKAT and KUBL FM in Salt Lake City, where he reported on rodeos in Oakley, Coalville, Heber and Evanston, Wyoming.
During that time, Hallisey became a Truth About Tobacco spokesman and stopped using tobacco and alcohol.
“Schools would call me to do assemblies about living healthy lifestyles, and one of the principals suggested I form a ‘Cowboy Ted’ club,” he said. “So I went home and wrote down a set of rules.”
His rules are:
1. Respect parents
2. Work hard in school
3. Lead a healthy lifestyle
4. Be nice to others
5. Be kind to animals
6. Set goals for yourself
7. No drugs or alcohol
8. Do a nice thing for another person
The work Hallisey did with “Cowboy Ted” proved beneficial when he attended Utah State University to get his master’s degree in health, physical education and recreation.
“A lot of what I did fulfilled many of the requirements,” he said.
Hallisey also served as the Tobacco-Free Rodeo spokesperson for California and eventually became the national Tobacco-Free Rodeo spokesperson, during which time the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association ended its tobacco sponsorship.
“The anti-tobacco message eventually branched out to obesity prevention, and mental and emotional health activism,” he said.
Hallisey also decided to stop doing the rodeos because of his rule to be kind to animals.
“Now, I’m not a full animal-rights person, but an animal welfare person,” he said. “Now, the thing with the rodeos caused me to lose part of my audience, because the parents of some of the kids I reached were animal-rights people. So I decided I would rather have the kids’ audience rather than the rodeo audience, because the kids are the future.”
In his new role with Arts-Kids Hallisey wants to share the healthy-living messages with the art and also get the teachers.
“We want to show them stuff the kids can do when we’re not there,” he said. “We show the teachers how it works and then let them take it and make it their own. The teachers know these kids and will know how to make the program fun and deliver the life skills.”
Hallisey’s vision just doesn’t include kids in school.
“We just started a program with the Kimball Art Center and we will be at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on the first Saturday of June, July and August for a two-hour day camp with our expressive arts program,” he said. “Each of those sessions will feature a different guest artist, who shares their artistic experience and encourages the creative process in a variety of mediums.”
Sharing Hallisey’s philosophy is Nels Anderson, owner of DrumBus Utah, an organization that is partnering with Arts-Kids that held its first session at the Kimball Art Center last Saturday.
Drums are the perfect tool to open dialogues with kids about rhythms, said DrumBus owner Nels Anderson.
“We ask if there are different rhythms than in music, such as the rhythms of life,” Anderson said. “Then we ask what happens when these rhythms are disturbed and have the kids philosophize.”
DrumBus was founded by Mike Liston more than a decade ago, and Anderson started working with him shortly afterwards.
“The initial idea was to get kids active with juggling and hacky sack, but it was the drums that really took off,” said Anderson, who eventually bought his own bus and started holding DrumBus sessions full time.
“I actually learned drumming while working with DrumBus,” he said. “Sometimes we supplement the drumming with juggling and other circus arts.”
The djembe is Anderson’s predominant drum, but he also utilizes tubanos — which are like congas — tambourines, washboards and triangles.
“We don’t use stick drums, because when you put sticks into someone’s hands the kids turn into Animal from The Muppets, and it’s easy to lose control,” Anderson said with a laugh.
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